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Impossible Foods Impossible Burger bleeding with heme
Soy leghemoglobin is what makes an Impossible Burger like this one appear to 'bleed' like cow-derived beef. Image credit: Impossible Foods

Brief: Impossible Foods prevails in US federal court complaint over heme

May 6, 2021

  • The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld the US Food & Drug Administration‘s (FDA) approval of Impossible Foods‘ use of soy leghemoglobin – or heme – as a color additive in its plant-based meat analogs.
  • The FDA’s 2019 approval of the compound as safe for human consumption had been challenged in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), an advocacy group which claimed the FDA hadn’t met its own standards for ‘convincing evidence’ in making its decision and had “conducted none of the long-term animal studies [needed] to determine whether or not [soy leghemoglobin] harms human health.”
  • In its non-precedential opinion this week, the Ninth Circuit denied CFS’s request to overturn the FDA’s approval, ruling that the agency had applied the correct standards to arrive at its decision.

Why it matters:

Impossible Foods derives its heme from the roots of soybean plants. It claims the compound is central to the meaty, umami flavor profile of its meat substitute products – as well as giving its Impossible Burger the characteristic ability to ‘bleed’ like rare-cooked beef.

“We applaud the court’s decision [to] slap down the meritless petition of [CFS] – an anti-science, anti-GMO activist group that’s been spreading lies for years​​​,” said Impossible Foods chief communications officer Rachel Konrad.

CFS senior attorney Sylvia Wu said the complainant is “disappointed by the court’s ruling [which] will allow Impossible Burger and other meatless burgers to be made with a novel, genetically engineered chemical without conducting any long-term health studies.”

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