Quorn's "Mycoprotein" Not Safe, CSPI Tells FDA, Again

Fake Fungal "Chik'n" Causes Anaphylaxis, Severe Vomiting, Hives


The vat-grown mold used to make the Quorn line of meat substitutes causes gastrointestinal distress and in some cases, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nutrition and food safety watchdog group has again urged the Food and Drug Administration to revoke its “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS, designation for the controversial fermented fungus. If the agency does intend to allow Quorn’s “mycoprotein” to remain on store shelves, it should at least require a prominent warning label, the group says.

Quorn is a meat substitute that typically takes the shape of artificial chicken patties or nuggets, imitation ground beef, cylindrical “roasts,” as well as other meatless incarnations, such as “Cranberry & Goat Cheese Chik’n Cutlets.” The principal ingredient is a microscopic fungus, Fusarium venenatum, which the company feeds with oxygenated water, glucose, and other nutrients in giant fermentation tanks. Once harvested from the tanks, the material is heat-treated in order to remove its excess RNA, and then dewatered in a centrifuge. Combined with egg albumen and other ingredients, it is then “texturized” into various meat-like shapes.

CSPI first urged the Food and Drug Administration to take Quorn off the market in 2002, and has been collecting adverse reaction reports from consumers ever since at QuornComplaints.com. CSPI has collected about 500 such reports from Americans and 1,200 more from European and Australian consumers. The vast majority of those reactions involved vomiting and diarrhea; others reported fainting or blood appearing in stool, vomit, or eyes. A smaller percentage of complaints involved hives or potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions. About 17 percent of complainants required medical treatment, sometimes hospitalization. According to a telephone survey of consumers in the United Kingdom (where the product is marketed more widely than in the United States), nearly 5 percent of consumers reported being sensitive to Quorn.

CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson relayed 10 consumers’ complaints in a recent letter to FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor.

One 20-year-old man from Waco, TX, told CSPI that two hours after eating Quorn Chik’n Nuggets, he began to feel nauseous, and, too far from a bathroom, tried to open a window in order to vomit. He blacked out and hit his head on a trash can. And, according to a report filed by her daughter, a 75-year-old woman from Towson, MD, vomited and passed out in the theater during a production of Les Miserables four hours after eating half of a Quorn Chik’n patty. She spent the night in the emergency room and required anti-nausea medicine to stop her vomiting.

"We believe, and we suspect that any reasonable person would believe, that any novel food ingredient that causes hives, anaphylactic reactions, or vomiting so violent that blood vessels burst, cannot, indeed must not, be considered by the FDA to be ‘generally recognized as safe,’" Jacobson wrote.

CSPI urged that Quorn products be removed from the marketplace. If the FDA declines to do that, CSPI suggested that the following notice be required on the fronts of Quorn packages: “Warning: This product might cause severe diarrhea or vomiting, or a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction; an allergy might develop only after consuming the product several times.” The group’s letter acknowledges that it is skeptical the FDA would require such a notice.

“There are plenty of nutritious, safe, and environmentally-friendly meat substitutes, made with soybeans, mushrooms, legumes, rice, and other real food ingredients,” said Jacobson. “It’s crazy to knowingly allow a potent new allergen into the food supply yet that’s exactly what the FDA has done.”

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