Quorn, from British company Marlow Foods, is made from a fungus grown in steel vats, which is flavored and shaped to imitate meat and poultry products. The company markets the fungus as a ‘mycoprotein’ similar to mushrooms. But that claim has been continually contested by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is backing Kathy Cardinale’s case, saying it is “as misleading as claiming that humans are related to jellyfish since they’re both animals”.
Cardinale, a 43-year-old advertising executive, said she had reacted to Quorn products on three separate occasions, vomiting seven or eight times within two hours. Cardinale and CSPI have called for Quorn products to carry an allergen warning label.
However, spokesperson for Quorn Foods David Wilson called the lawsuit “frivolous and unwarranted”.
He said in a statement: “There is absolutely no foundation in the allegations made against Quorn product's safety and their labeling. In the US, Quorn products are supported by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are recognized as safe and are appropriately labeled.
“Consumer safety and product quality is our number one priority...We will strongly defend allegations and challenges made to our brand and company.”
Although Quorn products have been widely accepted in Europe since their introduction in 1985, they faced opposition from CSPI – as well as the American Mushroom Society and rival veggie burger maker Gardenburger – when they were launched in the US in 2002.
At quorncomplaints.com, CSPI says it has collected more than 600 complaints from people who claim to have been sickened by eating the product. It commissioned a British telephone survey in 2003 which led it to claim that the product causes allergic reactions in 4.5 percent of consumers.
However, the company has said that the likelihood of allergic reaction is “extremely low”. Wilson has said that about one in 146,000 people may have negative reactions, compared to about one in 350 who react badly to soy products.
Quorn was developed from a fungus called Fusarium venenatum found in soil in 1967. It was first approved for marketing as human food by British food safety authorities in 1985.
The fungus was originally discovered and developed in an era when scientists were seeking new sources of cheap protein to deal with the threat of the world population outstripping food supplies.