Lawsuit Filed Against FDA for Additive in Popular Veggie Burgers

The new craze over fake meat/veggie burgers at fast food restaurants and grocery stores has not come without problems. The most frequently read post on the blog for two years running has been the listing of additives in these uber-processed foods. One of those additives has recently led to a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permitting the additive to be included in the fake burgers sans proper safety testing. More specifically, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a legal brief challenging the FDA’s 2019 approval of soy leghemoglobin (“heme”), a color additive used to make Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger appear to “bleed” like real meat.” (eewh)

According to the CFS press release: “FDA approved soy leghemoglobin even though it conducted none of the long-term animal studies that are needed to determine whether or not it harms human health. This includes studies for cancer, reproductive impairment, and other adverse effects called for by FDA’s Redbook, the Bible of food and color additive testing. We find this to be all the more troubling because a number of potential adverse effects were detected in a short-term rat trial: disruption of reproductive cycles and reduced uterine weights in females, and biomarkers of anemia, reduced clotting ability, and kidney problems.”

The heme colorant is produced in genetically engineered yeast and is modeled on a protein that is found in the roots of soybean. CFS claims the FDA should have required more extensive safety testing before approving its use as a color additive as required by law.*

The statement provided by CFS regarding their lawsuit against the FDA also notes:

Impossible Foods products containing genetically engineered (GE) heme are now widely available in supermarkets across the country due to FDA’s unlawful approval of GE heme as a color additive.

“The approval of soy leghemoglobin must be revoked, unless and until truly convincing evidence proves it to be safe…Enthusiasm for meatless products cannot be used as an excuse to skirt food safety laws. This introduction of Impossible Foods products highlights a troubling deregulatory trend which prioritizes corporate profit over public health and safety.”

-Ryan Talbott, CFS staff attorney

*Because food coloring additives offer no substantive benefits, and add only aesthetic appeal, Congress and FDA established an extremely high bar for approval. The agency’s “convincing evidence” standard means that a color additive cannot be approved without the strongest possible evidence of safety, a higher bar than for other food additives.