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Impossible Burger Studies Indicate Potentially Dangerous Ingredients

Posted in Our Blog on February 10, 2024

Healthy eating trends are on the rise. Particularly during this time of the year. The “new year, new start” approach generally makes a rise in January. For some, this means cutting carbs or sugar. Others want to eat more ethically sourced foods. And some may want to remove meat from their diet. Vegetarians and vegans, now more than ever, have plenty of options to make meals they are familiar with using commercially available food. The frozen food section, refrigerated food section, and middle aisles of just about every grocery store have dairy free cheeses, “not chicken” nuggets, along with plant-based pastas and sauces. I’ve even seen fig-based salami. For those who still miss the taste and texture of meat, there are a slew of companies that have taken plant proteins and shaped and flavored them to be as close to the real thing as possible. Enter, The Impossible Burger. Here’s the lastest on Impossible Foods Dangers:

Not only does it look, taste, and can be worked like ground beef – it even bleeds when cut!

How is that even possible? And is it safe?

Several studies dating back to inception indicate concerns with the  ingredients that make the impossible burger defy what is possible, citing them as potentially dangerous. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has chimed in but has not yet removed the product from the market.

Let’s take a look at the history of the Impossible Burger.

Soy Leghemoglobin Under Fire in 2015

One of the key components of the Impossible Burger is a protein called soy leghemoglobin (SLH). This protein is derived from genetically modifying yeast to produce heme (the part of blood that we most identify its smell, taste, and characteristics of meat). It is this component that makes the Impossible Foods appear to bleed like meat when cut and give it the meaty taste.

Prior to the “rat feeding study” the FDA initially refused to sign off on the safety of SLH. The results of the study determined that there was cause for concern.

Unexplained Changes in Weight Gain and Key Indicators of Inflammation, Kidney Disease, and Anemia Observed

The study observed rats fed the genetically modified yeast-derived SLH. These rats developed unexplained changes in weight gain as well as changes in the blood that are key indicators of inflammation, kidney disease, and anemia.

Despite the company’s claims that the product was “generally recognized as safe,” the FDA refused to sign off on it. Instead, the agency followed up with some questions, with a concern focused on SLH being a possible human allergen.

In response, the FDA indicated “Although proteins are part of the human food supply, not all proteins are safe. Information addressing the safe use of modified soy protein does not adequately address safe use of soybean leghemoglobin protein from the roots of the soybean plant in food.”

FDA Did Not Grant “Generally Recognized as Safe” Status

Impossible Foods did not receive the green light that they had hoped for in 2015, with the FDA concluding, “FDA believes that the arguments presented, individually and collectively, do not establish the safety of SLH for consumption, nor do they point to a general recognition of safety.”

Impossible Foods Appeals Again in 2017 for “Generally Recognized as Safe” Approval

After being denied “generally recognized as safe” status in 2015, Impossible Foods indicated it would commission another study in an attempt to gain this approval status. The firm told the FDA that they intended to conduct a 90-day rat feeding study, which is the standard length to observe sub chronic toxicity in rats.

This 90-day study somehow turned into a 28-day study instead. Keep in mind that 28 days in a rat’s life is the equivalent to about 2 to 3 years of a human. This shortened study makes it less likely to observe potential long-term health effects like organ damage that may take closer to the standard 90 days to present itself.

Along with a shortened study duration, small sample sizes were included (only 10 per sex per group). This shortened duration and statistically weak sample size contributed to the ineffectiveness of the study.

Several Adverse Effects and Female Reproductive Concerns Observed in 28-day Study

Despite the limitations in data, significant potentially adverse effects were observed when compared to the control group.

Potentially adverse effects in SLH-fed rats included:

  • Unexplained decrease in body weight gain
  • Increase in food consumption without weight gain
  • Changes in blood chemistry
  • Decreased reticulocyte (immature red blood cell) count – signs of anemia and/or damage to bone marrow where red blood cells are produced
  • Decreased blood clotting ability
  • Decreased blood levels of alkaline phosphatase – indicator for celiac disease and/or malnutrition
  • Increased blood albumin – indicator for acute infection or damage to tissues
  • Increased potassium values – indicator for kidney disease
  • Decreased blood glucose (low blood sugar) and chloride – indicator of kidney problems
  • Increased blood globulin values – common in inflammatory disease and cancer

Additional concerns were found with regards to the reproductive cycle of female rats fed SLH. Typical morphology of healthy rat uteri (increased fluid in the uterus during the proestrus phase of the cycle) seemed to be affected. Reduced instances of fluid filled uteri were observed as well as decreased uterus weight.

In response, a secondary study was conducted that showed no effect on the rats’ estrus cycle, concluding that the initial findings were a mere artifact of the experimental method used.

Let’s hope so.

Impossible Foods indicated that all of these effects were “non-adverse” and the SLH had “no toxicological relevance.”

FDA Grants “Generally Regarded as Safe” Status

While the FDA did issue “generally regarded as safe” status to the product, the wording of such approval still puts the responsibility of putting only safe foods on the market on the shoulders of the company.

Impossible Burger 2.0 Introduced in 2019

Impossible Foods introduced a new recipe for their Impossible Burger in 2019 that contains soy protein to replace the wheat protein of the previous version. This was an attempt to improve the texture and avoid gluten in the product. This new genetically modified ingredient came with problems of its own.

The new protein is a genetically modified protein from herbicide-tolerant soy. Consequently, this new Impossible Burger product can contain residues of glyphosate – the main ingredient of the herbicide used on genetically modified soy and a “probable carcinogen.”

In fact, an independent lab test found significant amounts of glyphosate in the product.

Glyphosate Levels in Impossible Burger 11 Times Higher Than Beyond Meat Burger

Testing by the Health Research Institute Laboratories, commissioned by the advocacy group Moms Across America found significant levels of the “probable carcinogen” glyphosate in the product. Results indicated 11.3 ppb in the meat alternative.

This was 11 times higher than the competitor, Beyond Meat burger (another plant-based burger made from non-GMO ingredients).

Company Claims Product is Safe

Despite their own research as well as independent analysis, Beyond Foods continues to indicate that their meat alternative product is safe to consume. While stock prices have shown a noted decline in both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat companies, the product remains on the market.

Want to Know More About Food Safety?

If you’d like to know more Food Safety, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

If you have fallen ill after regular consumption of Impossible Foods products, reach out for a free consultation. Call (833) 330-3663 or click here to email.

By: Heather Van Tassell