The FDA officially recognized soy leghemoglobin as safe on Monday. The plant-based protein is the essential ingredient allowing the plant-based Impossible Burger from Bay Area startup Impossible Foods to "bleed," just like a beef burger.
“Obviously we wish it would have happened a lot faster.”
Soy leghemoglobin is a soy-derived version of heme, an iron-rich compound found in hemoglobin that gives meat and blood its red color. In the case of the plant-based Impossible Burger, the compound is derived from soy and genetically modified yeast.
The GRAS recognition of this ingredient is a “big win” for Impossible Foods, Business Insider reports, coming after four years of attempts to achieve this status and a good deal of criticism from groups like Friends of the Earth in the interim. But the company's successful GRAS recognition is not news to insiders.
"We are the farthest thing from surprised," Pat Brown, Impossible Foods' CEO, tells Business Insider.
"We would have been kicking ourself in the foot if we hadn't already done the research and proven that this was safe," Brown continues. "But it's great news."
Impossible Foods had originally applied for GRAS recognition four years ago, but the FDA replied with further questions, noting that the data submitted wasn't enough to establish the safety of heme for human consumption. The company withdrew its submission in 2015 and refiled last year with additional data.
“Obviously we wish it would have happened a lot faster,” Brown tells Fortune.
While it wasn’t necessary to obtain the FDA’s approval to produce and sell the burgers in the United States, Impossible Foods did so voluntarily in an effort to be transparent with its consumers.
“This particular heme protein is new to the food system,” Brown tells Fortune. “That’s why we felt that it’s important to us to do the safety testing.”
Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger is already available at over 3,000 locations nationwide and in Hong Kong, including Momofuku Nishi restaurant in New York City and burger chains Fatburger and Umami Burger.
The company quickly rose to prominence after it was founded in 2011, thanks in large part to support from investors like Bill Gates and Google Ventures.
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