The Impossible Burger brand emerged on the market in 2016 as the plant-based, sustainable alternative to the “dirty” meat industry. Journalists and activists alike immediately loved it, but consumers have been slow to adopt plant-based meat into their diets. Perhaps the human body intrinsically knew all along that this food source bordered on farce; because it turns out this highly processed alternative may actually be even more harmful to our health than we could have imagined.
The major ingredient in Impossible Burgers is a genetically modified soy protein called soy leghemoglobin. While the soy apparently gives the burger its “meaty” texture, continuing research suggests that it causes a litany of health issues, as well.
A deeper look at the Impossible Burger health studies
In 2015, when Impossible Burger first sought FDA approval for their fake meat, the FDA denied the brand its GRAS certification for safety reasons. The FDA cited concerns about the lack of information on the safety of consumption of soy leghemoglobin because it was a new and genetically modified ingredient. Impossible Burger said in that original 2015 submission to the FDA that they intended to conduct a 90-day feeding study on rats.
The initial plan to conduct a 90-day feeding study represented the industry standard for assessing any potential long-term health consequences. Instead, the brand opted for a shortened 28-day study to expedite the process. A major impact on the data with a shorter study is that even in rats, 28 days isn’t an adequate timeframe to assess the long-term effects of a product (for comparison’s sake, one month in a rat’s life equates to about 2-3 human years).
Along with the study being too short to adequately understand any of the potential of the long-term effects, the sample size was also small. A company using a small sample size for their experiments is likely trying to ensure specific results without much variance. Trouble is, small sample sizes do not take into account the potential downsides for different types of people.
But here’s the crazy part: even with a shorter study AND a dishonestly small sample size, the data still showed statistically significant potential adverse effects from feeding soy leghemoglobin. These adverse effects included changes in blood chemistry, plus decreased blood glucose and chloride, which can indicate kidney disease. There were also disruptions found in the reproductive cycle of female rats in the study.
So how is it still on the market?
Despite the absurdity of Impossible Burger’s rat feeding studies, the FDA dismissed the adverse effects as “transient,” or easily reversible. They were also dismissed as “non-dose-dependent” because the effects didn’t increase with higher doses.
Basically, the FDA waved through Impossible Burger’s safety status on grounds that the company would be held liable for long-term side effects. This common bureaucratic tactic takes all liability off the FDA and puts it on the company; however, it does not ensure that the products are actually safe for consumption. In 2019, Impossible Burger added another genetically modified ingredient to their product: herbicide-tolerant soy. But now they already have protected status, and the news likely went unreported (remember, many media and activists still believe plant-based foods are morally and environmentally superior).
Ultimately, it ends up being our responsibility as consumers to question the claims made by companies selling these processed foods. You need to see processed foods like Impossible Burgers exactly as they are — as processed foods. They aren’t safer, better for you, or in any way superior than natural foods like organic meats, dairy, or vegetables. And try to understand that the branches of the government dedicated to public safety (like the FDA) do not always have the best interest of the consumer in mind.
It’s up to you to take care of your own health, always.