Impossible Burger's 'Magic Ingredient' Just Cleared An Important Regulatory Hurdle
Since its inception, Impossible Foods — makers of plant-based products including the Impossible Burger — has been outspoken about the importance of science in their business. Founder Patrick O. Brown is a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University, and the company website has an entire "science" section. But with innovation often comes the need for regulatory approval — and Impossible just got another important thumbs up from the U.S. government.
Impossible's biggest innovation is what they call "heme" — billed as "an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal" that "is what makes meat taste like meat." Though living things produce this compound — which is more technically called "soy leghemoglobin" — naturally, Impossible makes it "via fermentation of genetically engineered yeast," explaining why regulators decided they might want to take a look at it.
The FDA gave heme its approval last year, agreeing that the ingredient is GRAS, or "generally recognized as safe," for use to "optimize flavor," as the FDA put it. But as Impossible explains, the FDA has a separate protocol for approving an ingredient as a "color additive." As a result, the company says it chose to go through this process as well "to ensure maximum flexibility as its products and business continue to evolve." Bloomberg reports that Impossible needed this additional approval to be allowed to enter grocery stores as planned in September.
Today, Impossible announced that the FDA had signed off on this use for heme, too. "We've been engaging with the FDA for half a decade to ensure that we are completely compliant with all food-safety regulations — for the Impossible Burger and for future products and sales channels," Impossible Foods Chief Legal Officer Dana Wagner said in the announcement. "We have deep respect for the FDA as champion of US food safety, and we've always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100-percent confidence in our product."
Beyond entering the retail market, Impossible Foods didn't say if it had any additional plans for this new "flexibility" moving forward, but seeing as the company talks about wanting to eliminate all animals from our diets — and have recently discussed new ventures into dairy and seafood — they probably have more up their sleeve.