FDA declares meat-free Impossible Burgers safe to eat

Impossible Foods' meat substitute is now "generally recognized as safe" for human consumption.

The Food and Drug Administration has finally given Impossible Burger's plant-based meat its stamp of approval. Impossible Foods submitted the meat substitute for review back in 2014, but the FDA responded with concerns that its key ingredient, a protein known as soy leghemoglobin, might cause allergies and other adverse effects. The protein is commonly found in soy plants' roots, but since we don't typically eat that part of the plant, the FDA had reservations about its safety. In response, the company sent in more info, including results from a rat-feeding study, which convinced the agency to declare that the plant-based meat (and soy leghemoglobin) is "generally recognized as safe" for human consumption.

According to Impossible Foods' announcement, the rat-feeding study proves that consuming the ingredient in amounts much, much more than our normal dietary exposure to it wouldn't produce any bad effects. Further tests also showed that it has a "very low risk of allergenicity." Those are the most salient points in the company's application, because Impossible Burgers wouldn't be what they are without soy leghemoglobin. The protein carries the iron-containing molecule called "heme," which gives the meat substitute its meat-like taste and even makes it bleed like the real thing.

While the FDA never prohibited the company from conducting business -- the Impossible Burger is available in 3,000 locations across the country, including White Castle -- it believes the agency's "no-questions" letter could change people's perception of its products.

Impossible Foods Pat Brown told Wired:

Getting a no-questions letter from the FDA is a big win for Impossible Foods -- and for science, people, and the planet. While I always anticipated receiving a no-questions letter, I have been consistently impressed by the FDA's diligence and eagerness to dive into the science behind our test data."

If this makes more people want to give the Impossible Burger a shot, then the company's meat substitute could become more widely available in the future.