- More restaurant chains are turning to faux-meat options.
- But experts say just because it's not meat, doesn't mean it's significantly healthier.
- In general, diets lower in meat can be healthier. But faux-meat products can have high sodium levels.
Burger King has the Impossible Whopper. Carl's Jr. has their Beyond Famous Star. KFC even introduced a plant-based chicken-like product — and sold out in 5 hours.
- The Beef With the GMO Impossible Burger - EcoWatch ›
- Burger King's 'Impossible' Whopper Has No Beef — Does This Make ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian Mastroianni
Earlier this year, fast-food giant Burger King announced it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly version of its signature sandwich: the Impossible Whopper.
The Bottom Line<p>Back in spring, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/is-buger-kings-impossible-whopper-healthy" target="_blank">fast-food chain Burger King announced</a> it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly Impossible Whopper made out of plant-based ingredients instead of meat.</p><p>When reading <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">the fine print on its website</a>, some vegetarian and vegan customers might be dismayed to see the default preparation for these patties is for them to be cooked on the same broilers as beef and chicken items.</p><p>Dietitians stress that whether this concerns you will depend on how strictly you adhere to your vegetarian or vegan diet.</p><p>Do your research. If you're unclear about the ingredients of a dish when dining out or want to know more about how it's prepared, read the menu online beforehand, and make sure to ask your server.</p><p>If it isn't made in a way that serves your diet or takes into account a food allergy, you can politely ask to have it prepared in a specific way for you.</p><p>However, remember you might have to seek a different dining option if the restaurant can't accommodate you.</p>
By Jaydee Hanson
In the foodie world, 2019 might as well be named The Year of the Impossible Burger. This plant-based burger that "bleeds" can now be found on the menus of Burger King, Fatburger, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, White Castle and many other national restaurant chains. Consumers praise the burger's meat-like texture and the product is advertised as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional beef burgers.
The Science<p>The <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/impossible-burger">Impossible Burger</a> is manufactured from two different methods of genetically engineering soy products. This "impossible in nature" union is neither healthier nor more environmentally friendly than other kinds of non-meat burgers. While Impossible Foods, the company behind the Impossible Burger, has been trying to spin its product as both healthier and more sustainable than those of its competitors, a quick examination of the company's own data suggests otherwise. </p><p><strong>1. The first kind of genetic engineering in the "Impossible Burger" is found in the soy used for the protein in the "burger" itself.</strong></p><p>Rather than starting with organic soy beans, which have <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201" target="_blank">higher levels of protein and lower levels of Omega 6 fatty acids (the bad Omega)</a>, the company <a href="https://medium.com/impossible-foods/how-our-commitment-to-consumers-and-our-planet-led-us-to-use-gm-soy-23f880c93408" target="_blank">chose to use GMO soybeans</a>, probably because they are cheaper than the organic beans. The company uses both GMO soy protein concentrate and GMO soy protein isolate <a href="https://faq.impossiblefoods.com/hc/en-us/articles/360018937494" target="_blank">for the protein in its burger</a>. Impossible Foods does not describe how it processes the soy, but alcohol is the most common solvent used to process soy protein concentrate, as it produces products with a neutral taste. But the beneficial isoflavones in soy are removed by this method. Soy protein concentrate has the lowest level of healthful isoflavones — including daidzein, genistein and glycitein — <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/134/5/1229S/4688709" target="_blank">of any form of processed soy</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, GMO soy is also sprayed with large amounts of the herbicide <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/glyphosate">glyphosate</a>, a product shown to cause cancer in people exposed during its application. GMO soy <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/8/e1600850" target="_blank">has been found</a> to use significantly more herbicides than conventional soy or organic soy. At a time when <a href="https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/5595/california-couple-prevail-in-third-roundup-cancer-lawsuit-awarded-2-billion" target="_blank">juries are awarding</a> billions of dollars in damages to those affected by exposure to glyphosate, it is startling that Impossible Foods would double down on the GMO soy that is inextricably linked to this toxic herbicide.</p><p><strong>2. The second kind of genetic engineering of soy produces the "heme" that makes the Impossible Burger "bleed." </strong></p><p>In order to manufacture its burgers, Impossible Foods takes DNA from the roots of soy plants, where a small amount of "heme" is produced, and inserts it into genetically engineered yeast that is then fermented to mass-produce heme. This is the first time that people have consumed this product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to require testing in this situation to make sure that this novel protein does not cause allergic reactions in people. Unfortunately, instead of requiring Impossible Foods to file a new Food Additive Petition, FDA allowed the company to use a weak regulatory process called "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) where the company does its own research and chooses its own reviewers to self-certify that its product is safe for human consumption. Center for Food Safety has a <a href="https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4956/groups-sue-fda-to-protect-food-safety" target="_blank">lawsuit</a> challenging the GRAS food additive loophole that the Impossible Burger went through, allowing it and many other novel food substances to unlawfully evade government analysis and approval before coming to market.</p><p>Even under the weak GRAS process, the first time the company submitted data on the allergenicity of its "heme," it was so inadequate that the FDA raised questions about the company's data and the company withdrew its application so that it could redo its research. Although the FDA now says that it has "no questions" about Impossible Foods' latest research on the safety of "heme," the agency itself has not affirmatively declared that "heme" produced in genetically engineered yeast is safe for human consumption. Moreover, FDA has warned Impossible Foods that it cannot claim its "heme" is a source of iron based on this review and that it must label its product as a potential allergen. The FDA also notes that the company should <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/116243/download" target="_blank">request a review of the "heme" as a new color additive</a>.</p>
Conclusion<p>Most customers of the Impossible Burger will not see labels saying that the burgers are made from GMO soy or could cause allergic reactions as Impossible Foods are currently only selling to fast food chains which do not put such labels on their menus.</p><p>Rather than buy the GMOx2 Impossible Burger, choose a non-GMO burger made in your local area. The Washington Post <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/these-6-veggie-burgers-arent-meant-to-taste-like-meat--and-thats-what-makes-them-so-good/2019/05/24/f2f068e4-71d6-11e9-9f06-5fc2ee80027a_story.html?utm_term=.a6c02ebd1d9a" target="_blank">recently highlighted</a> six veggie-based burgers being made by local restaurants that are not serving the Impossible Burger.<strong></strong></p>
By Gigen Mammoser
Has a green revolution finally come for fast food?
Made From Plants, But Not a Health Food<p>Is this plant-based Whopper actually any healthier for you than the meat-based version? Not really.</p><p><span></span>"Health-wise I don't think it makes much of a difference," <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharon-zarabi-952a39103/" target="_blank">Sharon Zarabi </a>RD, director of the Bariatric Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.</p><p><span></span>"I wouldn't define it as healthier, I would define it more as ethical," she said.</p><p><span></span>The original Whopper clocks in at 660 calories (more than half of them coming from fat), 40 grams of fat, and 28 grams of protein. The Impossible Whopper comes in at 630 calories (again, half from fat), 34 grams of fat, and 25 grams of protein.</p><p>The Impossible Whopper does have significantly lower cholesterol — 10 milligrams compared to 90 milligrams — but has more sodium at 1,240 milligrams compared to 980 milligrams.</p><p>Over at White Castle, the Impossible slider actually <a href="https://static-whitecastle-com.s3.amazonaws.com/White-Castle-Nutrition-Information.pdf" target="_blank">contains more calories than a traditional slider</a>. Its nutrition information is more aligned with what you'd find in a double slider.</p><p><span></span>"What contributes to obesity is your calorie intake and obviously the quality of your calories, so when you're still getting the fries and the bun and the soda, unfortunately having an Impossible burger is not going to wipe out the calories from the other foods," said Zarabi.</p><p><span></span>"It does equate to the same amount of calories as having the Impossible burger versus a meat-based burger," she said.</p><p><span></span>Despite not being healthier in terms of calories and fat, the presence of plant-based alternatives available from national restaurant chains, especially those with limited options for vegetarians, is promising.</p><p><span></span>"It's a step in the right direction as more and more studies indicate the potential harms of consuming excess red meat," <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristin-kirkpatrick-ms-rd-ld-202b8123/" target="_blank">Kristin Kirkpatrick</a>, MS, RD, LD, a licensed registered dietitian who is manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline.</p><p>Kirkpatrick said the rise of veggie-based burgers gives consumers more options.</p><p>"As much as I would love to say that fast food is now a thing of the past, the statement is not concurrent with consumer trends," she said. "People are still eating fast foods, despite efforts to mitigate it. At least they have an option outside of the fried and meat options — they now have a choice. I think this is just the beginning as more people, concerned with health and environment, look for alternative options." </p><p><span></span>Serving a plant-based burger might seem like an exercise in futility, when it sits alongside oversized sodas and fries, but on the other hand, it might be the most practical way of actually reaching consumers.</p>
Is Fast Food Changing?<p>Fast food remains as popular as ever, but the willingness of brands like Burger King to take on plant-based alternatives says something significant about America's changing attitudes toward meat and health.</p><p>"It's nice to see a trend moving toward plant-based eating," said Zarabi.</p><p><span></span>"I think that we're going to see with the future of food a lot of food imposters, similar to milk. A lot of people have moved away from dairy and are now substituting with [milk alternatives], which is great, but I think a lot of people need to take a step back and ask themselves why they are swapping from one item to another and really consult with dietitians or health professionals," she said.<span></span></p>
Burger King plans to roll out the meatless Impossible Whopper at every one of its 7,200 U.S. branches by the end of the year, the company said Monday.
- Burger King to Trial Meat-Free Impossible Whopper - EcoWatch ›
- Promotion of GMO-Derived Impossible Burger at World's Largest ... ›
- What Is the Impossible Burger, and Is It Healthy? - EcoWatch ›
By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
The Impossible Burger is a plant-based alternative to traditional meat-based burgers. It's said to mimic the flavor, aroma, and texture of beef.
What is the Impossible Burger?<p>The Impossible Burger was created by Impossible Foods, a company founded by Patrick O. Brown in 2011.</p><p>Brown is a scientist and professor emeritus at Stanford University in California. He holds a medical degree and a Ph.D. and has worked as a research scientist for many years.</p><p>Through conferences, Brown tried raising awareness about how using animals for food harms the environment. However, this had little impact, so he created a business that produced plant-based alternatives to popular animal products.</p><p>Its signature product — the Impossible Burger — aims to perfectly mimic the taste of beef.</p><p><strong>Impossible Burger Ingredients</strong></p><p>Using carefully selected ingredients, Impossible Foods created a plant-based burger that some say perfectly resembles the taste, aroma, and texture of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/beef" target="_blank">beef</a>.</p><p>The original Impossible Burger contains the following ingredients:</p><p>Water, textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, natural flavors, 2% or less of leghemoglobin (soy), yeast extract, salt, konjac gum, xanthan gum, soy protein isolate, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamine (vitamin B1), zinc, niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin B12.</p><p>In 2019, the company introduced a new recipe featuring the following changes:</p><ul> <li>uses <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/soy-protein-good-or-bad" target="_blank">soy protein</a> instead of wheat protein, making it gluten-free</li><li></li><li>contains a plant-based culinary binder called methylcellulose to improve texture</li></ul><ul><li>replaced a portion of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil" target="_blank">coconut oil</a> with sunflower oil to reduce saturated fat content</li></ul><p>Heme, or soy leghemoglobin, is the ingredient said to set the Impossible Burger apart from other plant-based burgers. It adds to the flavor and color of the burger and makes it "bleed" like a beef burger does when cut.</p><p>It's also perhaps the most controversial ingredient in the Impossible Burger.</p><p>Unlike the heme found in beef, the heme in the Impossible Burger is genetically engineered by adding soy protein to genetically engineered yeast (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5813221/" target="_blank">1</a>).</p><p>Though Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some raise concern about its potential health effects (<a href="https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/NoticeInventory/ucm588603.pdf" target="_blank">2</a>).</p><p>Currently, the Impossible Burger is only available at certain restaurants and fast food establishments in the United States, Hong Kong, and Macau. The company also plans to sell the Impossible Burger in U.S. grocery stores from 2019.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger option said to replicate the flavor, texture, and aroma of beef.</p>
Impossible Burger Nutrition<p>There are nutritional differences between the Impossible Burger and beef-based burgers.</p><p>The following chart compares a 113-gram serving of the Impossible burger to an equal serving of a 90%-lean beef burger (<a target="_blank" href="https://faq.impossiblefoods.com/hc/en-us/articles/360018939274-What-are-the-nutrition-facts-">3</a>, <a href="https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list" target="_blank">4</a>).</p>
Impossible Burger Benefits<p>Impossible Burgers offer several health benefits.</p><p><strong>High in Important Nutrients</strong></p><p>The Impossible Burger contains an impressive amount of nutrients, as vitamins and minerals like iron, thiamine, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 are added during processing.</p><p>Some of these nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, are especially important for those following <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-guide" target="_blank">plant-based diets</a>, including vegans and vegetarians.</p><p>Vegans and vegetarians are at a greater risk of developing <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-common-nutrient-deficiencies" target="_blank">deficiencies</a> in these nutrients than people who consume animal products (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598028/" target="_blank">5</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793309/" target="_blank">6</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188422/" target="_blank">7</a>).</p><p>What really sets the Impossible Burger apart from other vegan and vegetarian foods enriched with iron is that it provides heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed by your body than the non-heme iron you get from plant foods.</p><p>Moreover, soy leghemoglobin has been shown to have an equivalent bioavailability to the iron found in meat, making it a potentially important source of highly absorbable iron for those who don't consume animal products (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16478282" target="_blank">8</a>).</p><p>The iron in the Impossible Burger has been approved by the FDA for use in food, although it's long-term safety is still unknown.</p><p><strong>Suitable for Plant-Based Diets</strong></p><p>The Impossible Burger is a good choice if you enjoy the taste of beef burgers but want to limit your intake of animal products.</p><p>In addition to being suitable for both <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegetarian-diet-plan" target="_blank">vegetarian</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-diet-guide" target="_blank">vegan</a> diets, it contains nutrients that many plant-based diets lack, such as vitamin B12 and heme iron.</p><p>Given that Impossible Burgers are offered at certain restaurants and fast food establishments, it's a tasty and easy, on-the-go meal choice for those following plant-based diets.</p><p><strong>May Be a More Environmentally-Friendly Choice</strong></p><p>The Impossible Burger website claims that producing this plant-based burger uses roughly 75% less water, generates 87% fewer greenhouse gasses, and requires 95% less land than producing conventional ground beef from cows (<a href="https://impossiblefoods.com/if-pr/fda-no-questions-letter/" target="_blank">9</a>).</p><p>Indeed, research shows that cattle farming is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions in the livestock industry (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30119602" target="_blank">10</a>).</p><p>Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming contribute to global warming. This leads many climate experts to recommend that people eat a more plant-based diet in order to mitigate pressure on the environment (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29105912" target="_blank">11</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6182055/" target="_blank">12</a>).</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The Impossible Burger is an environmentally-friendly food packed with nutrients that vegan and vegetarian diets often lack, such as iron and vitamin B12.</p>
Impossible Burger Precautions<p>Although the Impossible Burger offers some benefits, there are some downsides to consider as well.</p><p><strong>Concerns Over Plant-Based Heme</strong></p><p>Although soy leghemoglobin — the heme used in Impossible Burgers — was deemed GRAS by the FDA, its long-term safety is still unknown.</p><p>Current studies on soy leghemoglobin have only been conducted in animals and over short periods.</p><p>For example, a 28-day study in rats found that those fed the equivalent of 750 mg/kg per day of soy leghemoglobin, which is over 100 times greater than the 90th percentile estimated daily intake in humans, had no adverse effects (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5956568/" target="_blank">13</a>).</p><p>However, it's currently unknown whether it's safe for humans to eat this man-made compound over longer periods.</p><p><strong>Contains Potentially Allergenic Ingredients</strong></p><p>The original Impossible Burger recipe contains wheat and soy, both of which are common food allergens.</p><p>In fact, 1% of the world's population has celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten-containing grains.</p><p>What's more, it's thought that 0.5–13% of the general population has non-celiac <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gluten-sensitivity-is-real" target="_blank">gluten sensitivity</a> — an intolerance to gluten that results in unpleasant symptoms like headache and intestinal issues (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6182669/" target="_blank">14</a>).</p><p>While the new Impossible Burger recipe has swapped gluten-containing wheat protein for soy protein, the burger still contains ingredients that some people can't tolerate.</p><p>For example, an allergy to soy, while less common than an allergy to milk or wheat, is considered one of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-food-allergies" target="_blank">eight most common food allergens</a> for both adults and children (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312744/" target="_blank">15</a>).</p><p><strong>Concerns Over GMOs</strong></p><p>Impossible Foods does not hide the fact that the Impossible Burger contains genetically modified (GMO) ingredients like soy leghemoglobin and soy protein.</p><p>Most scientists agree that GMO foods are safe. However, some are concerned about the use of GMO crops that are resistant to commonly used herbicides like glyphosate and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424534/" target="_blank">16</a>).</p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/roundup-glyphosate-and-health" target="_blank">Glyphosate</a> has been linked to potentially harmful effects on humans, plants, and animals, leading many experts to demand further research on the possible hazards of this herbicide to both humans and the environment (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29117584" target="_blank">17,</a> <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29884897" target="_blank">18</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/glyphosate/index.html">19</a>).</p><p>For example, glyphosate has been shown to harm hormonal function, and some studies have linked it to certain cancers like leukemia (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30060078" target="_blank">20</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29136183" target="_blank">21</a>).</p><p>Additionally, some studies have linked exposure to 2,4-D with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025008/" target="_blank">22</a>).</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>There are several downsides to the Impossible Burger, including its content of potentially allergenic ingredients and the use of GMO ingredients like soy leghemoglobin.</p>
Is the Impossible Burger Healthy?<p>If taste and convenience are your only concerns, the Impossible Burger may be a good choice. However, if you want to eat a more nutritious plant-based burger, consider a more whole-food-based veggie burger.</p><p><strong>There Are Healthier Plant-Based Burger Options</strong></p><p>The Impossible Burger contains mostly soy or wheat protein, as well as added preservatives, salt, flavorings, and fillers to enhance its taste, shelf life, and texture.</p><p>Although these ingredients are considered natural, they aren't necessary for a healthy diet, and some people prefer to avoid them.</p><p>Another downside to the Impossible Burger is that any restaurant can put their own spin on it, meaning that other ingredients — aside from those listed on the official website — may be present in the final food product.</p><p>Other veggie burgers on the market usually contain similar ingredients. However, some contain more whole-food-based ingredients like lentils, quinoa, hemp, and black beans.</p><p>Fortunately, you can make healthier and more whole-food-based veggie burgers at home. Delicious plant- and nutrient-dense burger recipes can be found online and are often based on plant proteins like beans, grains, and nuts.</p><p>Plus, many recipes pack in fresh vegetables like sweet potato, onions, cauliflower, leafy greens, and spices to further elevate the nutritional benefits of the final dish.</p><p>The heme iron in the Impossible Burger is more bioavailable than non-heme iron in <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iron-rich-plant-foods" target="_blank">plant foods</a>.</p><p>Luckily, if you eat a plant-based diet, you can instead meet your iron needs by eating nutrient-dense whole foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Alternatively, you can take iron supplements.</p><p>Additionally, pairing plant-based iron sources with foods rich in vitamin C, as well as soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes before eating them, are simple ways to naturally enhance the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/increase-iron-absorption" target="_blank">absorption of non-heme iron</a> (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230157/" target="_blank">23</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3999603/" target="_blank">24</a>).</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>While the Impossible Burger may be a good option for vegans and vegetarians on the go, you can make healthier plant-based burgers at home.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>The Impossible Burger has made headlines for its impressive similarity to beef-based burgers.</p><p>It boasts high protein, vitamin, and mineral contents, including a genetically engineered, plant-based source of heme iron known as soy leghemoglobin.</p><p>However, there are concerns about some of its ingredients. These include soy hemoglobin and potentially allergenic protein sources like gluten and soy.</p><p>Although the Impossible Burger may be a tasty and convenient option on the go, you can make more nutritious plant-based burgers from whole-food ingredients at home.</p>
By Mark R. O'Brian
People eat animals that eat plants. If we just eliminate that middle step and eat plants directly, we would diminish our carbon footprint, decrease agricultural land usage, eliminate health risks associated with red meat and alleviate ethical concerns over animal welfare. For many of us, the major hurdle to executing this plan is that meat tastes good. Really good. By contrast, a veggie burger tastes like, well, a veggie burger. It does not satisfy the craving because it does not look, smell or taste like beef. It does not bleed like beef.
What on Earth Is Leghemoglobin?<p>The Impossible Burger includes an ingredient from soybeans called leghemoglobin, which is a protein that is chemically bound to a non-protein molecule called heme that gives leghemoglobin <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC177968/" target="_blank">its blood red color</a>. In fact, a heme — an iron-containing molecule — is what gives blood and red meat their color. Leghemoglobin is evolutionarily related to animal myoglobin found in muscle and hemoglobin in blood, and serves to regulate oxygen supply to cells.</p><p>Heme gives the Impossible Burger the appearance, cooking aroma and taste of beef. I recruited a scientific colleague in St. Louis to try out the Impossible Whopper, and he could not distinguish it from its meaty counterpart. Although he was quick to qualify this by noting all of the other stuff on the Whopper may mask any differences.</p><p>So, why aren't soybean plants red? Leghemoglobin is found in many legumes, hence its name and is highly abundant within specialized structures on the roots called nodules. If you cut open a nodule with your thumbnail, you will see that it is <a href="https://www.agronomy.org/science-news/fixing-soybeans-need-nitrogen" target="_blank">very red due to leghemoglobin</a>. The soybean nodule forms as a response to its interaction with the symbiotic bacterium <em>Bradyrhizobium japonicum</em>.</p><p>I suspect that Impossible Foods depicts a soybean without nodules on their <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com/heme" target="_blank">website</a> because people tend to be creeped out by bacteria even though <em>Bradyrhizobium</em> is beneficial.</p><p><a href="https://medicine.buffalo.edu/faculty/profile.html?ubit=mrobrian" target="_blank">My research group's</a> interest in the symbiotic relationship between the soybean and its bacterial sidekick <em>Bradyrhizobium japonicum</em> is motivated by the goal of reducing humanity's carbon footprint, but not by creating palatable veggie burgers.</p><p>The bacteria within root nodules take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a nutrient form that the plant can use for growth and sustenance – a process called nitrogen fixation. The symbiosis lessens the reliance on chemical nitrogen fertilizers, which consume a lot of fossil fuel energy to manufacture, and which also pollute the water supply.</p><p>Some research groups are interested in extending the symbiosis <a href="https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.01055-16" target="_blank">by genetically engineering crops such as corn and wheat</a> so that they can reap the benefits of nitrogen fixation, which only some plants, including legumes, can do now.</p><p>I am pleasantly surprised and a little amused that esoteric terms of my vocation such as heme and leghemoglobin have found their way into the public lexicon and on the wrapper of a fast-food sandwich.</p>
Is Leghemoglobin Vegan? A Non-GMO? Organic?<p>Leghemoglobin is the ingredient that defines the Impossible Burger, but it is also the additive most closely scrutinized by those seeking assurances of it being organic, non-GMO or vegan.</p><p>The leghemoglobin used in the burgers comes from a genetically engineered yeast that harbors the DNA instructions from the soybean plant to manufacture the protein. Adding the soybean gene into the yeast then makes it a GMO. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agrees with the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) <a href="https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/NoticeInventory/UCM620362.pdf" target="_blank">designation of soybean leghemoglobin</a>. Nevertheless, the <a href="https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/can-gmos-be-used-organic-products" target="_blank">U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits the "organic" label</a> for foods derived from genetically modified organisms. It is ironic that an innovation that may be eco-friendly and sustainable must be readily dismissed by groups that claim to share those goals.</p><p>Not all vegans are delighted by this new burger. Some insist that a GMO product cannot be vegan for various reasons, including <a href="https://www.nongmoproject.org/blog/tag/vegan/" target="_blank">animal testing of products such as leghemoglobin</a>. In my view, the moral certitude of that position can be challenged because it does not take into account the cattle that are spared. Other vegans view <a href="http://www.vegangmo.com/vegan-gmo-mission" target="_blank">GMOs as a solution to problems</a> that are important to them.</p><p>Judging from its website, <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com/heme" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a> is keenly aware of the constituencies that weigh in on their product. It includes a link describing how <a href="https://medium.com/impossible-foods/how-gmos-can-save-civilization-and-probably-already-have-6e6366cb893" target="_blank">GMOs are saving civilization</a>. But they also make the misleading claim that "Here at Impossible Foods, heme is made directly from plants." In reality, it comes directly from yeast.</p><p>The commercialization of leghemoglobin represents an unanticipated consequence of inquiry into an interesting biological phenomenon. The benefits of scientific research are often unforeseen at the time of their discovery. Whether or not the Impossible Burger venture succeeds on a large scale remains to be seen, but surely food technology will continue to evolve to accommodate human needs as it has since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago.</p>
Promotion of GMO-Derived Impossible Burger at World’s Largest Natural Food Trade Show Denounced as Deceptive
Natural food industry representatives and consumer advocates denounced Impossible Foods, maker of the GMO-derived Impossible Burger, for promoting their product at Natural Products Expo West, saying they were engaging in deceptive marketing.
GMO Controversy<p>The Impossible Burger is one of several new plant-based — or in this case lab-created — meat products that provide the look and taste of meat while claiming to be more environmentally friendly than industrial meat production. The product is served in several thousand restaurants in the U.S., including chains like White Castle and The Cheesecake Factory (where it is falsely described as "natural" on the menu). <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/burger-king-to-trial-impossible-meatless-whopper-in-59-stores-2633500660.html" target="_self">Burger King</a> recently announced it would test market the Impossible Burger in 60 restaurants in St. Louis.</p><p>But the Impossible Burger has been <a href="https://www.gmoscience.org/impossible-burger-boon-risk-health-environment/" target="_blank">controversial</a> because it is made using genetic engineering. The burger's key ingredient is called heme, which is produced using a genetically engineered yeast that is fermented and multiplied. The GMO-derived heme gives the Impossible Burger its meat-like taste and red blood-like color. </p><p>In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/business/impossible-burger-food-meat.html" target="_blank">raised questions about the safety of the engineered heme</a> after Impossible Foods applied for GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Despite FDA's concerns, Impossible Foods put its GMO burger on the market for public consumption in 2016 anyway. Impossible Foods later submitted results from short-term rat feeding studies to the FDA and, last year, the agency said that it had no more questions about heme's safety.</p>
No Transparency About Impossible Burger's GMO Ingredient<p>Impossible Foods plans to introduce a retail version of the Impossible Burger this year, which is why they exhibited at Natural Products Expo West, according to Nick Halla, the company's chief strategy officer. He said that people at the show had been very receptive to the Impossible Burger.</p><p>But, Natural Products Expo West attendees didn't know they were eating a GMO product. Impossible Foods' exhibit booth and literature made no mention that the Impossible Burger's key ingredient, heme, is genetically engineered.</p><p>When asked why they weren't transparent about the burger being GMO, Halla said the recipe cards being given out wasn't appropriate literature for describing the genetic engineering process. But, a more detailed brochure at the booth also said nothing about GMO heme, only describing it as "magic ingredient found in all living things." Halla said Impossible Foods is transparent about its use of genetic engineering on its website.</p><p>But Lampe said Impossible Foods lack of transparency at Natural Products Expo West was unethical. "Impossible Foods is legally allowed to not provide that information to consumers. Legal? Yes. Responsible and ethical? I don't think so," Lampe commented.</p>
GMO Products Allowed at Natural Products Expo West if They Don't Make "Natural" Claims<p>So, how did a GMO food company get into the world's biggest natural food trade show? According to the <a href="https://www.newhope.com/standards?ID=1067799" target="_blank">standards for exhibitors</a> at Natural Products Expo West, a company can promote foods with GMO ingredients as long as they don't claim their products are natural.</p><p>"We don't rule out GMOs yet, because if we did we could have Natural Products Expo in my child's school gymnasium (because genetically engineered ingredients are so pervasive in the food supply)," said Michelle Zerbib, standards director at <a href="https://www.newhope.com/" target="_blank">New Hope Network</a>, which hosts Natural Products Expo West. "What we do with GMO products is that we don't allow them to market as natural, 100 percent natural or any natural claims," she said. <br></p><p>New Hope's ingredients standard for exhibitors requires the use of non-GMO yeast but only as a flavor enhancer. Impossible Foods uses a GMO yeast to make the Impossible Burger's key ingredient.</p><p>"There's a standard for (non-GMO) yeast but that's according to flavoring, not the product itself," Zerbib said.</p><p>Zerbib also admitted that New Hope Network doesn't have the staff or time to closely inspect each exhibitor's ingredients. "We just don't have the resources to do that," she said.</p><p>Lampe said it is difficult for New Hope to keep up with the growing number of products made using new genetic engineering technologies.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there are an increasing number of synbio ingredients and products already in the marketplace in foods and dietary supplements, and trying to determine show acceptance in light of the rapidly changing marketplace, with no mandated federal labeling for the new classes of GMO products and no testing protocols in place, is not an enviable task for the New Hope standards folks," Lampe said.</p>
"This is Not Clean Food"<p>Could other companies that sell GMO products like the non-browning Arctic Apple or GMO salmon also exhibit at Natural Products Expo West if they don't make natural claims? Yes, said Zerbib.</p><p>But she also said it may be time for New Hope Network to look at revising their ingredient standard as new GMO products come to market.</p><p>"We probably need to revisit it maybe take another look because there have been a lot of different technologies that have come out since we incorporated our ingredients standard in 2009," she added.</p><p>Alan Lewis, director of government affairs and food and agriculture policy for <a href="https://www.naturalgrocers.com/" target="_blank">Natural Grocers</a>, said the natural food community needs to take a strong stand against new GMO products like the Impossible Burger.</p><p>"If we are going to apply the cautionary principle to every other suspect food ingredient, then certainly synthetic heme, grown in genetically modified cultures, qualifies for scrutiny. Novel molecules and unknown ingredients have never been embraced in natural food. What are we thinking? This is not clean food," said Lewis.</p>
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- Impossible Burger and the Road to Consumer Distrust - EcoWatch ›
- Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit ... ›
- Burger King to Trial Meat-Free Impossible Whopper - EcoWatch ›
By Stacy Malkan
For anyone who wonders why consumers aren't inspired to trust the GMO industry, consider this bizarre statement from Impossible Foods Chief Communications Officer Rachel Konrad in defense of the Impossible Burger, a veggie burger made more meat-like via genetically engineered yeast.
An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told the manufacturer of the meat-like Impossible Burger that the company hadn't demonstrated the safety of the product's key genetically engineered ingredient, according to internal FDA documents. Despite FDA's concerns, Impossible Foods put its GMO-derived burger on the market for public consumption.