Made from an edible fungus (‘mycoprotein’) grown in the UK using a controlled fermentation process, Quorn was launched in the US in 2002, and is now a $30m brand this side of the Atlantic.
However, the CSPI claims it can cause “life-threatening anaphylactic reactions” and last week called on the FDA to insist that Quorn products carry warning labels alerting consumers to the risk of a serious allergic reaction.
CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, who has just penned another letter to the FDA citing a string of consumer complaints, claimed that 5% of the population was allergic to Quorn: “It’s crazy to knowingly allow a potent new allergen into the food supply yet that’s exactly what the FDA has done.”
The FDA has offered to meet with the CSPI, he added: "If the reaction to Quorn was mild, occasional sneezing, I wouldn't care about it---but the reactions include vomiting so severe that blood vessels burst in the throat and eyes, hives, and life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
"The FDA and FSA [UK Food Standards Agency] have been totally irresponsible in not eliminating this new public health threat.”
Quorn Foods: We are not surprised by their tactics
But Quorn Foods chief executive Kevin Brennan told FoodNavigator-USA he had heard it all before, adding: “This is the same claim they have always made and billions of packs sold over 20 years have shown that their claims are inaccurate.”
US general manager David Wilson said the evidence (consumer testamonials rather than clinical evidence) cited by the CSPI was “on a scientific basis, very weak”, adding: “CSPI has had a long running grudge against the Quorn business, so we are not surprised by their tactics.”
While a certain proportion of consumers would always experience allergic reactions to some proteins, “Quorn products are enjoyed and very well-tolerated by consumers,” he said, noting that the FDA had issued Quorn’s then-owner Marlow Foods with a letter of no objection to its GRAS notification in January 2002.
Sensitivity rates for Quorn much lower than for other protein foods such as soy and dairy
He added: “As an ethical company, Quorn Foods takes all concerns about its products extremely seriously… [But] Quorn products have been extensively tested and approved as safe by the relevant regulator in each market and are appropriately labeled.
“Sensitivity rates to the product are much lower than for other protein foods such as soya, nuts, shellfish, dairy and eggs.”
While it’s relatively new to US consumers, Quorn is now the world’s favorite brand of meat free foods with global sales topping $300m, he added.
“Since 1985, more than 3bn Quorn meals have been consumed in 10 different countries.”
Rapid progress in the US as shoppers look for alternatives to soy
While vegetarians were obvious customers, there was a wider market opportunity to woo shoppers trying to reduce their meat intake for health reasons (Quorn is high in protein and fiber, low in saturated fat and calories, non-GMO and not officially listed as an allergen – unlike soy) or those trying to cut down on meat on environmental grounds, he said.
Quorn typically performed best in stores with a dedicated natural and organic frozen section, added Wilson, who is preparing to launch several new frozen entree products in 2012 including burritos, and spaghetti with meat-free meat balls.
While Quorn was slightly more expensive than its soy-based meat analog counterparts it had a more “meat-like bite”, he claimed.
Class action lawsuit
A 2009 class action lawsuit filed by the CSPI in Connecticut accusing Quorn Foods of failing to alert consumers to the risk of allergic reactions on labels was dismissed in May of this year, on “what we feel are wholly incorrect legal grounds”, CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner told FoodNavigator-USA at the time.
“Our client decided against an appeal, to my disappointment as an advocate but to my satisfaction as her lawyer.”
Judge: It’s up to the FDA to decide if Quorn should carry allergen warning label
Judge John F. Blawie of the Stamford/Norwalk District Superior Court in Connecticut said it was up to the FDA – the relevant federal agency - to decide whether Quorn should carry a warning label.
He added: “The plaintiff may well be frustrated by the perceived glacial pace of movement by the federal bureaucracy on the issue of mycoprotein and its potential allergenicity, but for this court to rule otherwise in this case when this very issue is pending before the FDA would act as an obstacle to the accomplishment of Congress' objectives and purpose.
“It would potentially lead to the Balkanization of labeling requirements for food allergens, as each of the 50 states sought to impose their own view of what might be appropriate for food products sold within its own borders.”