Producers of the meat alternative Quorn claim it tastes like chicken, while a consumer group is insisting that Americans be told it is a fungus and that the FDA should carry out a complete review of the product's safety.
US regulators earlier this year allowed Quorn Foods, a unit of AstraZeneca, to start producing it as a meat substitute. The company sells Quorn burgers, nuggets and other products, reports Reuters.
In Europe, Quorn has become so popular over the past 17 years that it outranks soy as the top meat alternative, the company said.But the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer group, on Wednesday wrote to the Food and Drug Administration to voice concerns about Quorn's safety and called for a thorough review.
"It should not be on the market until the company has demonstrated to the FDA that it's safe," said Dr. Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director.
About half a dozen people have contacted a web site Jacobson set up to receive Quorn complaints. They reported problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea after eating Quorn products.
While complaints were few, they may indicate that Quorn causes problems in a small percentage of cases, Jacobson said. He said a previous study linked Quorn foods to vomiting and diarrhoea.The FDA has agreed that Quorn is "generally recognised as safe" and is further reviewing the product to determine whether to approve it as a food additive, an FDA spokeswoman said.
Quorn Foods acknowledged that some people do not tolerate the product well, just as some have trouble digesting other proteins. About 1 in 146,000 people may have negative reactions, compared to about 1 in 350 people who react badly to soy products, said David Wilson, a Quorn Foods vice president.
"Our protein is incredibly safe and is incredibly well-tolerated," Wilson said. "It tastes great. It tastes like chicken," he added.
If Quorn remains on the market, critics insist that the company must advertise the product as a fungus. Quorn labels identify it as related to mushrooms, which some call misleading. Quorn is a mycoprotein, a protein produced by a fungus.
In February, Quorn competitor Gardenburger, a US producer of vegetarian burgers that contain mushrooms, complained to the FDA that Quorn-product labelling was deceptive.