Article by Kathleen Furey
Millennials who’ve watched Cowspiracy, or are health conscious and motivated to explore a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, are targeted to save the planet by eating this "low-impact” food. Designed to convert meat eaters to a “plant based” i burger, it can now be ordered as a meat alternative at restaurants in many cities around the US. But, what is The Impossible Burger made of?
Nowhere do they claim that Impossible Burger ingredients are USDA Certified Organic. One look at the Impossible Burger package ingredients list tells any well-educated eater why: wheat, potato proteins, coconut oil, “other nutrients”, natural flavors and 2% or less of the following: leghemoglobin (soy), yeast extract, salt, soy protein isolate, konjac gum, xanthan gum, thiamin (vitamin B1), zinc, niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin B12. Many ingredients such as soy, potatoes, and several others, are genetically engineered (GMO) in a lab. GMO food products in the US today require no package label to identify them.
Impossible Burger website states: “The way the world produces meat today is taking an enormous toll on our planet. According to livestock researchers, animal agriculture uses 30% of all land, over 25% of all freshwater on Earth, and creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes combined.”ii “Because we use 0% cows, the Impossible Burger uses a fraction of the Earth’s natural resources. Compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.”iii Animal foods livestock industries drive some $105 Billion of the food market.
Let’s look at just one of the main ingredients. 94% of soy in the US is GMO, genetically engineered to withstand the spraying of glyphosate, a patented antibiotic, endocrine disruptor, and genotoxin, that does not wash off; a key ingredient in Roundup herbicide.iv The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, linking it with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in humans, chromosomal damage, and that humans are exposed to it mainly through sprays, water and diet.v By 2016, the US had used 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974; worldwide 9.4 million tons have been applied over this time period.vi Due to the epidemic increase of glyphosate-resistant weeds, more glyphosate must be sprayed each year to control themvii, and many nations have banned its use.
Unlike foods made from whole plants, The Impossible Burger uses recently coined, “vat-itarian” high tech investor technology (high tech, synthetic meat, dairy, and other animal proteins grown in a biotech vat instead of from an animal), and “molecular farming”, market trends claimed to be “humane”, “green”, “promoting animal welfare”, and “mitigating climate change”.viii The lack of meat in The Impossible Burger does not necessarily qualify it as a true “plant based” food.
So, how is it made?
According to a Wired video, meat flavor comes from myoglobin, which contains “heme”, which gives it the iron taste. “When you cook meat, the myoglobin heats and opens up, the heme comes out, and catalyzes a bunch of reactions that create the volatile compounds that give that smell, the flavor that makes meat so compelling,” David Lipmanix, Chief Scientist, Impossible Foods.
Soy root contains leghemoglobin, which also contains heme, but the amount of soy scientists would need to produce that amount of heme would be outlandish, Lipman explains. They engineered a yeast and use it to produce very high quantities of that heme. Impossible Foods has invented a tiny heme machine, the gas chromatogram mass spectrometerx and meat-free heme is the foundation of a stunning imitation of a beef burger. Celeste Holz-Schietinger,xi Principal Scientist at Impossible Foods explains that this spectrometer helps them discover the meats smells, flavor, textures and aromas which generate these qualities in beef. From there they begin to make those components. Proteins drive texture and, once identified, they look into plants for plant proteins which have those same properties, to understand how these will behave in their burger.
The class of proteins that carry heme in plants is leghemoglobin. Scientists take the genes that code for soy leghemeglobin (SLH) and insert them into a yeast (Pichia Pastoris). The yeast then manufactures the leghemeglobin at a lower price than it would take to get it from growing the actual soy plant.
Impossible Foods claims that soy roots “are a brand new ingredient in the food supply”, and though their “company isn’t required by law to report the use of a new ingredient like soy root to the FDA, Impossible Burger volunteered to do so with soy leghemoglobin”. They argue that just because the FDA has not determined that soy leghemoglobin is safe, this does not mean that it is unsafe. According to David Lipman, their toxicity studies show it is safe to consume; their experts argue that they found no adverse effects in a rat feeding study. Impossible Foods claims that they compared the protein to known allergens and found no matches.
FDA disagrees and has asked the company to demonstrate safety in humans, not only for the heme protein derived from its soy root, but also for 40+ other proteins that make up this GMO yeast-derived soy leghemoglobin. “FDA believes that the arguments presented, individually and collectively, do not establish the safety of SLH [soy leghemoglobin], for consumption…” – FDAxii Global Justice reported,xiii "In discussion with FDA, Impossible Foods … admitted that up to a quarter of its 'heme' ingredient was composed of 46 'unexpected' additional proteins, some of which are unidentified and none of which were assessed for safety in the dossier."
Impossible Foods admits they’ve neither designed nor tested the safety of this genetically engineered protein, nor did they seek the stricter approval FDA requires of food color additives, though soy leghemoglobin promotes the burger’s desired “bleeding” color.xiv
Impossible Foods studies have not been evaluated by peer-reviewed scientists’ reports that can be accessed by the public. The question any physician/scientist would ask is what parameters did they use to measure toxicity? Were they clinically relevant markers? Why hasn’t this data been made available on Impossible Foods’ website?
Heme iron is one of the reasons the WHO determined that red meat is a probable carcinogen.xv The same reactive oxygen that makes the Impossible Burger have “meaty chemical reactions” can also be a free radical that can trigger DNA damage and cancer. Key ingredient, soy protein isolate, also boosts IGF-1 levels. IGF-1 fuels every stage of cancer, so elevated levels of IGF-1 are not beneficial to health.
All proteins are not created equal
Perhaps the greatest mistake of genetic engineering on foods created in a Silicon Valley laboratory where high tech rules, is that DNA and the human genome are not “cut & paste” technology. From the email noted from the FDA (referenced below), this modified plant product and the rogue proteins produced by the genetic engineering process have not shown safety in clinical studies and should be removed from the market immediately.
Email from FDA 5/29/15:
“Although proteins are a 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.”
The deeply flawed assumption that foreign genes and proteins from one species can be randomly inserted into the DNA of an unrelated species has been proven wrong ever since the approval of the first commercial, GMO, FlavrSavr tomato, which was a short-lived market failure.xvi
Soy protein is promoted as a healthy ingredient in countless products. Vat-itarian soy heme is genetically engineered into GMO yeast. Genes from the soy leghemoglobin are injected into yeast, as a yeast fermentation. Injecting genes from a plant species into a yeast species is genetic modification. Why is that a problem? Because these proteins may produce allergens. This issue is similar to what was discovered during an early, failed attempt of genetic engineering, with the FlavrSavr Tomato. Impossible Foods has not made this information public.
There are unexpected and unintended effects from such gene invasion and insertion, and EPA’s own internal scientists recognized this back in 1974, when they advised the FDA that no genetically engineered products should be approved to enter the food supply before rigorous independent testing could irrefutably prove their safety.xvii The FDA chose to disregard their own scientists and in 1996, approved GMOs, genetically engineered foods, to enter the US market. Today in 2018, the US food supply is about 85% GMO, genetically engineered, unlabeled and untested. Because an estimated 94-96% of all US soy crops are GMO, it is doubtful that Impossible Burgers will ever be certified organic.
What about food Allergens?
Pediatrician Dr. Michelle Perro, Executive Director and Advisor for GMO Science explains, “Food allergies are so common place in the American landscape that Californian schools are now required to have epipens to treat life-threatening allergic emergencies. What are the statistics? A shocking 15 million Americans have food allergies with 5.9 of them being children (1 in 13). About 30% of kids with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. When you take into account that 40% of kids with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis), we can safely say that the need for vigilance regarding potential allergens should be heightened. These statistics are also based on severe, IgE-mediated immune reactions, and not on the under-reported IgG and IgA reactions.”
The FDA claimed that Impossible Foods’ assessment of the potential for the soy leghemoglobin ingredient to be an allergenxviii was deficient.xix Listed by FARE (Food Allergies Research & Education)xx as one of the 8 top food allergens, soy is responsible for some of the most serious food allergy reactions in the United States, which is serious and can be life-threatening.xxi Today we see the most exponential decline in the health of Americans that is on record, including diabetes, obesity, austism and autism-spectrum illnesses, colorectal cancer, leaky gut, digestive problems, gluten intolerance, a broad array of food allergies and pervasive antibiotic resistance. ‘Food intolerances’ such as IgG and IgA are delayed response antibodies, often resulting in digestive symptoms like abdominal discomfort, and irritable bowel. IgA antibodies can last up to a week in the body after eating a food, and IgG can last three weeks. Repeated exposure, inflammation, and immune reactivity contribute to sensitivity and high IgG in response to food proteins, are exploding and these are not mentioned in the risks. Impossible Burgers contain both gluten and soy.
Isn’t food in the US regulated by USDA and FDA?
The Food and Drug Administration does not require food testing. According to Tom Neltner, Environmental Defense Fund Chemical Policy Director, twenty years after the FDA was given the power to regulate food additives in 1938, the agency added an exemption where companies could sell products without the agency’s review of whether or not the additives were deemed safe.xxii The Center for Food Safety has sued the FDA to reinstate the requirement of food producers to formally petition the FDA for approval of a new food additive as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), to support their request with requiring published studies of these products, to require the FDA to notify the public and provide opportunity for comment before approving the additive’s use.xxiii
A recent Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Mind The Store campaign revealed that two-thirds of the most trusted retailers in the US are failing consumers by stocking food, beauty and household products with toxic chemical ingredients. xxiv Techno-foods are on the rise. In the US an estimated 85% of the products on the grocery shelves are GMO, and by law, unlabeled, so they cannot be identified. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods are scaling up their burger production from 300,000 to 1 million pounds a month. Clearly, the Impossible Burger is made with no whole plant food whatsoever, so calling it a plant based food is like calling ice cream “a dairy-based health food”. Can the American people withstand yet another unregulated, toxic assault on our food supply, or will we wake up and reject high tech “vat-itarian” “food”? Because, vat’s where it’s at.