If you’re a vegetarian, your main burger option for years was a soy patty that more closely resembled rubber than meat. Now, with brands like Hilary’s, Dr. Praeger’s, and Sunshine, the offerings have definitely improved, but nothing comes close to looking and tasting like real meat quite like the “bleeding” burgers from Impossible Foods. For former carnivores, they fill a big, moo-ing void. Which is why when the New York Times reported that Impossible Burger might not be safe for consumption, it sounded alarms across the food industry.
The problem is in the sauce—literally. “Soy leghemoglobin, a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants that the company makes in its laboratory—has raised regulatory questions,” reports the Times. It’s a tricky situation: Creating food that tastes just like meat but is 100 percent vegan is pretty genius, but the Food and Drug Administration is concerned that soy leghemoglobin has never been consumed by humans before and could potentially be an allergen, the Times reports.
“Impossible Foods introduced this genetically engineered protein into the marketplace with no real data and despite the FDA having serious concerns about its safety.”
And the substance is a key ingredient for the burger—it’s what makes it “bleed” and also gives it that meat-like texture. Impossible Burger’s website says it’s nature-based.
Impossible Foods responded to the Times article by saying that a panel of food safety experts from three different universities has declared the product safe. “In addition, Impossible Foods provided the reporter with details about a rat feeding study in which rats consumed the equivalent of more than 200 times the amount of heme, in the form of soy leghemoglobin, that the average American consumes daily from ground beef,” its statement reads.
A panel of food safety experts from three different universities has declared the product safe, Impossible Foods says.
But investigative food journalist Max Goldberg isn’t convinced. “Modified soy leghemoglobin has never been part of the human diet before,” Michael Hansen, PhD, of Consumers Union told him. “Yet, Impossible Foods introduced this genetically engineered protein into the marketplace with no real data and despite the FDA having serious concerns about its safety. It is outrageous.”
So, are bleeding burgers safe? Since companies are not required to get FDA approval for new ingredients—something that is only going to become more common as more of the foods we eat are created in labs—it seems that in this case the answer is: (Vegan) buyer beware.