While the Impossible Burger is gaining popularity because it is vegan and thus marketed as “natural” it is made from genetically modified heme which has caused some alarm.
As the atrocities of factory farming have been becoming more and more visible to the public, veganism has become a more attractive and viable option. But with this more ethical and supposedly healthy option comes a new diet that is not so easy to adapt to. Completely giving up meat and animal by products can be very difficult to even the healthiest omnivores. So, what has capitalism done to solve this problem and meet the needs of this new market? Meat replacement substances that give a meat like texture and flavor while usually being completely plant based. And since they are plant based, they must be natural, ethical, and healthy for you right? Not exactly.
But what is heme? Heme is an iron-containing compound of the porphyrin class which forms the nonprotein part of hemoglobin and some other biological molecules. Impossible Foods, the corporation that produces the Impossible Burger and other meat replacement products, produces soy leghemoglobin by genetically modifying yeast and using fermentation. Heme is naturally found in the blood of animals and fish as well as in plants. The heme used in the Impossible Burger is so close to the heme found in meat that it is said to have a very similar meat like flavor and color.
In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had multiple concerns about the safety of the engineered heme after Impossible Foods applied for generally recognized as safe status (GRAS). But by 2016, despite some suspicions raised by the FDA, Impossible Foods put its GMO burger on the market for public consumption. Impossible Foods later submitted results from short-term rat feeding studies to the FDA and the agency stated that it had no more questions about heme’s safety.
Yet more controversy started when Impossible Foods had a table at the Natural Foods Expo West. They marketed their burger as natural and nowhere identified their products as being GMO in any of their detailed literature.
By: Alexandria Addesso, Kean College, NJ