Dirty Secrets of Vegetable Meat

Dirty Secrets of Vegetable Meat

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By Silvia Ribeiro

For example, the so-called Impossible Burger from the high-tech company Impossible Foods is one of the products of this burgeoning market, in which many players come from the biochemical and computer industries, rather than the food industry. They present it as totally vegetable, but with a secret sauce that makes it bleed and have a taste and color very similar to that of meat.
The ingredient that gives it that effect, leghemoglobin (abbreviated in English SLH or simply heme), is in this case a product derived from genetic engineering, which was not approved as safe for human health by the United States Food and Drug Administration States (FDA for its acronym in English), despite which the company put it on the market since 2016.
The issue was brought to light by an article in the New York Times of August 8, 2017, after the Friends of the Earth organizations and Grupo ETC obtained through the access to information law, the documents that the company presented to the FDA, trying to get its approval (here)

As Jim Thomas of the ETC Group explains, the FDA told Impossible Foods that their hamburger did not meet safety standards, and the company admitted that it did not know all of its ingredients. Yet he has sold it to thousands of unsuspecting consumers. The company should recall its hamburgers until the FDA establishes the safety of the product and apologizes to those who were put at risk.
The leghemoglobin used for this burger is a laboratory-created protein that mimics one found in the root of soybean plants, but produced in tanks by microbes altered using synthetic biology. In documents submitted by the company to the FDA, the agency noted that according to the data provided, heme, a key ingredient in the hamburger, did not meet the standards for generally recognized safety status (GRAS). The company admitted that 46 unexpected additional proteins had been generated in the genetic engineering process for heme, none of which had been evaluated in the dossier submitted to the FDA. To prevent the FDA from rejecting the application, the company withdrew it voluntarily, assuring that it would carry out new tests, which it currently claims to have carried out successfully - in feeding experiments with laboratory mice - but despite this, the study is not public. Although the company maintains that the protein in soybeans has been consumed for a long time and there are no known adverse effects, the version constructed using synthetic biology, as well as the unexpected additional proteins, are unknown and have allergenic and other unknown potential.
The case of this bleeding vegetable burger is significant in the development in this industry. It is not, as one might think, sustainable alternatives, but in many cases they are substitutes with ingredients excreted in fermentation tanks, by microbes or yeasts genetically altered by synthetic biology, a field that is scarcely or null regulated, in which there are no even appropriate biosecurity standards for this new and unnatural industrial process. Other examples of the same type are substitutes that mimic cow's milk produced by Perfect Day or Clara Foods' egg whites, both produced with synthetic biology.
They are companies that try to take commercial advantage of regulatory gaps and the criticism and sensitivity of more and more people to industrial meat production and the cruelty of animal husbandry, but without explaining that the production process is based on risky technologies, whether in These or other cases, such as those that produce meat in the laboratory, another high-tech adventure that involves health risks not evaluated.
The engine of this industry is that the market for animal substitutes is huge and very fast growing, the founder of Impossible Foods estimates that it will be in the trillions of dollars in a few years. It is probably also the reason why Impossible Foods obtained investments of 200 million dollars on the part of Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and also billionaire Li Ka-Shing, from Hong Kong, to which this month was added 75 million dollars more than Singapore sovereign wealth fund (NYT, here).
The questioning of industrial animal husbandry is fully justified for a wide spectrum of reasons, but we do not need to change it for another harmful and risky industry. The peasant, agro-ecological production, of shepherds and artisanal fishermen, offers us abundant real, healthy and proven alternatives.

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