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Impossible Foods clears legal battle over the ingredient that makes its meat ‘bleed’

The contested ingredient is supposed to make Impossible Burgers “taste like meat.”

Impossible Burger
Close-up shot of the Impossible Foods Company’s product Impossible Burger in Walnut Creek, California, January 11, 2021.
Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

A San Francisco federal appeals court upheld a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow Impossible Foods to use “heme,” the additive the company says makes its products “taste like meat.”

Had Impossible Foods lost this legal battle, it could have dealt a heavy blow to the company. Genetically engineered heme is what sets its products apart from other competitors like Beyond Meat that don’t use the ingredient.

The FDA used a weaker legal standard than it should have to approve the use of heme, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety argued in a lawsuit it filed last year. It said the FDA made its decision based on safety standards for food additives rather than on standards for color additives, which stipulate that there needs to be “convincing evidence” that the color additive causes no harm. Heme is a red ingredient that makes Impossible Foods’ products appear to “bleed.”

The appeals court ruling said that the FDA had “substantial evidence” to deem heme in Impossible Foods safe to eat, Bloomberg reported today. It also allowed the FDA to rely on research commissioned by Impossible Foods in its decision-making.

Impossible Foods shared its own data with a food safety panel of experts from several universities for review and then conducted rat feeding studies to address questions from the FDA. “We have no questions at this time regarding Impossible Foods’ conclusion that soy leghemoglobin preparation is [generally recognized as safe] under its intended conditions of use to optimize flavor in ground beef analogue products intended to be cooked,” the FDA concluded in 2018.

The Center for Food Safety, on the other hand, said there needs to be more analysis. “FDA should have required additional independent testing to make sure that this new substance does not cause allergic reactions or other health problems in people,” Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement last year.