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Consumer Reports replies to Impossible Foods’ criticism of its article on the company’s beef substitute burger

Impossible_Burger_-_Gott's_Roadside-_2018_-_Stierch

Photo: Sarah Stierch

On Monday, I went with a group of colleagues to a local restaurant for a meeting. The menu said you could get an Impossible Burger for $2 more in any of its burger options. Knowing I was going to post the Consumer Reports reply to Impossible Foods’s article about them, I wanted to try one. However, I was told the Impossible burger wasn’t available. The company hasn’t been able to keep up with production to meet all the new demand. Disappointing.

Here’s the Consumer Reports statement on Impossible Foods’ beef with its critique:

In response to Consumer Reports’ recent article “Meat Gets A Makeover” focusing on plant-based alternatives to traditional beef burgers, Rachel Konrad – Impossible Foods’ PR chief – published an inflammatory and misleading attack on the motivations and methods behind our coverage of the safety of a key ingredient in the Impossible Burger. Oddly enough, she seems out for blood about an article that very fairly compares several plant-based alternatives based on taste, safety, and environmental impact.

At Consumer Reports, our first and only responsibility as a mission-driven nonprofit is to serve consumers. We provide accurate and factual product information that people can trust, and look out for consumer health and safety. That’s what we’ve always done, and that’s what we will continue to do, even when we get pushback on our findings. We are confident in our data, methods, and reporting – and proud of the historic results we’ve achieved in improving products, services, and the marketplace, saving countless lives in the process.

We find it surprising that Ms. Konrad (or frankly anyone) would disagree with what we believe is a reasonable call for more research into the long-term safety of soy leghemoglobin, the ingredient in Impossible Burger that gives it its meaty look and feel. Our objective for this is simple: to fill in the blanks, because no studies on the long-term consumption of soy leghemoglobin have ever been conducted. Despite Ms. Konrad’s assertions, soy leghemoglobin is a new addition to the human diet. While humans have eaten soybeans for centuries, soy leghemoglobin is a highly processed derivative of soybean root. Soybean root nodules and, thus, soy leghemoglobin, have never been part of the human food supply. And its safety and effects on human health over multiple years are not known.

Ms. Konrad’s provocation questioning the credibility and independence of our reporting, our organization, and our scientists consists of unfounded statements combined with personal attacks in an attempt to intimidate and deflect attention from an important question that consumers deserve to have answered. This is why we believe a detailed response to her key arguments is necessary to truly set the record straight.

  • Konrad challenges our assertion that the FDA did not conduct any independent tests to confirm the compound’s safety. That is in fact true. The panel she references is not the FDA, nor did this panel conduct actual testing. The panel reviewed data produced by Impossible itself. 
  • Konrad challenges that “rats fed soy leghemoglobin in the company’s safety study developed changes in their blood chemistries that could indicate kidney or other health problems – issues that require follow-up.” Our scientists, including multiple PhDs, reviewed the 28-day rat study conducted by Impossible and concluded that despite the limited nature of the study, there were in fact substantive changes. They also noted that this study was too small in length and scope to determine that “there was no overall effect on health, no cancer and no reproducible effects on histology – even when the rats were fed huge heme doses.” How long-term impacts on human health can be determined by a 28-day study on animals is a legitimate question for a scientific and testing research organization like Consumer Reports to be asking. 
  • Konrad takes issue with CR suggesting “that heme iron may contribute to the increased risk of colon cancer and other health problems that have been associated with red meat”, which has been documented in several independent, scientific studies and goes on to make several unsubstantiated and insupportable comments about heme and its place in human diets writing: “In fact, heme is one of the most studied molecules in science…Heme poses no health risks. Quite the contrary: Heme is essential for life on Earth; it’s the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood and it’s an essential component of the system that burns calories for energy in every cell – without it you die.  And you already consume heme every single day in virtually every food you eat.”

With due respect to Ms. Konrad, this is outlandishly false and misleading. While heme iron may have been around for a while, Impossible Foods itself acknowledges that soy leghemoglobin is proprietary and was created by the scientists at the company. Soy leghemoglobin did not exist in nature prior to Impossible Foods creating it. Our scientists also point out that it is not the case that consumers “consume heme every single day in virtually every food you eat.” For example, heme iron is not in any fruits, vegetables, milk, or eggs.

  • Finally, Ms. Konrad resorts to ad hominem attacks against individual members of our scientific team and the experts we quote. The viewpoints expressed in our article are not the opinion of a single individual, nor are they the result of any kind of bias or ideology. They are considered and substantiated positions with the full consensus of our entire team of scientists and investigators as well as scientists outside our organization. We offer perspectives from scientists and experts on both ends of the spectrum, including from industry like Impossible's own head of nutrition.

In conclusion, we support healthy plant-based options for consumers and appreciate efforts to innovate to address global systemic issues of sustainability and climate change, and we respect the role that technology can play in developing new and unexpected solutions to that challenge. However, Consumer Reports’ first – and only – responsibility is to be an unrelenting voice for the health and safety of consumers for today and tomorrow. And to do anything less would be impossible.

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