Impossible Foods won a court ruling that allows it to continue using a key additive in its popular meat substitute over the objections of a food safety group.
The federal appeals court in San Francisco on Monday upheld a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the use of soy leghemoglobin as a color additive in Impossible’s imitation beef patties. The 2019 decision removed a hurdle for Impossible in extending its burger sales from restaurants to grocery stores.
Soy leghemoglobin, or “heme,” is a red, genetically modified ingredient that Impossible has long touted as the key to the Impossible Burger’s flavor. But its use has brought regulatory problems in the U.S. and barred the products from major foreign markets, including China and the European Union. Beyond Meat Inc., Impossible’s main competitor, often points to its GMO-free ingredient list in its marketing.
The market for plant-based meat is forecast to grow to $450 billion, making up a quarter of the $1.8 trillion meat market, by 2040, according to consulting firm Kearney, which sees animal protein peaking in 2025.
In its ruling, the court denied the Center for Food Safety’s request to overturn the FDA decision. Two judges said the FDA had applied the correct standard in reviewing the safety of soy leghemoglobin and that the agency’s decision was supported by “substantial evidence.” They also said the FDA could rely on a study commissioned by Impossible. The third judge declined to consider whether CFS had raised valid concerns, saying the group lacked standing to challenge the FDA’s decision.
“We are disappointed by the court’s ruling today, which will allow Impossible Burger and other meatless burgers to be made with a novel genetically engineered chemical without conducting any long-term health studies,” Sylvia Wu, a senior attorney with CFS, said in a statement. “FDA is supposed to protect consumers from unsafe novel chemicals in our food supply, instead now consumers bear the burden of avoiding these GMO plant-based burgers.”