Fake chicken products were the subject of a piece by Mark Bittman in this past Sunday's New York Times, in which he described one faux meat, known by the brand name Quorn, as "pretty appealing in some instances." While the name Quorn conjures up images of the charming English village for which it's named, some people have had some not-so-lovely reactions to the stuff. We're talking major body rebellions, with Quorn coming out of every orifice.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the nonprofit food-safety group, has been complaining to the FDA about Quorn since 2002, trying to get the product removed from grocery store shelves or, at the very least, have it come with strong warning labels.
"I think that consumers should be deeply disturbed that the FDA is allowing the marketing of an ingredient that causes extraordinarily severe gastrointestinal reactions and even life-threatening anaphylactic reactions," Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, told LA Weekly in an email on Monday.
Jacobson continued: "Even though we alerted the FDA to the problem years ago, it has shown no curiosity about the misery that Quorn causes to unsuspecting consumers who think they are buying a 'health food.'"
Quorn, which can be processed to have the same texture as meat, is made from a fungus called Fusarium venenatum (first found in that English village Quorn), a mycoprotein that is distantly related to mushrooms. According to CSPI, medical studies have proven that the fungal ingredient in Quorn is an allergen. The organization has heard from more than 1,500 American and European consumers who suffered adverse reactions to Quorn products. CSPI has been trying to convince retailers such as Whole Foods not to sell imitation meats made with Quorn. (In Los Angeles, frozen Quorn products still are sold at Whole Foods.)
The FDA has categorized Quorn as "generally recognized as safe." In a letter last November to the FDA, Jacobson protested that a food that can cause 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.'"
The FDA met with Jacobson's group in December and suggested that CSPI submit the more than 1,000 adverse-reaction reports the organization has received. The reports were sent to the FDA in January for the agency to review, a process that likely will take several months.
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CSPI is pushing for Quorn products to have a prominent warning on the front of the box about the possible risks, if they continue to be sold.
"Consumers shouldn't have to play Russian roulette when they sit down to eat," Jacobson told the federal agency.