Could Mystery Allergy Rock Fake Meat?

You’ve no doubt heard about the glorious man-made foodstuff that is – if you are to believe its inventors – the cure for everything from global warming to animal cruelty to flat feet. We’re talking about veggie burgers, or alternative proteins, or simply fake meat.

Last week brought news of Beyond Meat’s fabulous initial public offering. Beyond Meat’s – the manufacturer of plant-based protein products – IPO was the biggest first-day gain since at least 2008, leaving the startup with a value of $3.8 billion.

Quite impressive, and Forbe’s contributor Tom Taulli called it a “flashback to the dotcom boom.” Even more impressive, Taulli noted, was that Beyond Meat’s sales were only $87.9 million and that the company has yet to post a profit. Still, Taulli believes Beyond Meat is “a New Age food company that is disrupting a massive industry.”

That “massive industry” is livestock and meat production, roughly estimated at $1.4 trillion – with a T.

Call me skeptical, even though I acknowledge the annals of history are littered with naysayers to technological advancements. For instance, I love this quote from Steve Ballmer in 2007, then the CEO of Microsoft. “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” By December 2014, the iPhone had captured almost 48 percent of the smartphone market in the U.S.

So, while there is plenty of enthusiasm from investors for both plant-based and cell-cultured proteins, there remain plenty of unforeseen hurdles to replacing our $1.4 trillion meat business.

We can argue about taste and texture, and even price. Those are no doubt refinements the fake meat companies will make.

More of a threat may be the ingredients – as in – allergies. Last week CBC news (Canadian Broadcasting Company), reported a pediatric allergist in Toronto has traced “mystery” allergic reactions to pea protein.

Oops! Beyond Meat’s burger is described as “a pea protein–based patty.”

When Dr. Elana Lavine discovered several patients with allergies to pea protein, she warned parents and doctors to be vigilant. In fact, she was so concerned she wrote a case study about them in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

Okay, to be fair, not many people will be allergic to pea protein. But here’s the full list of the ingredients in the Beyond Burger: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color).

That, folks, is the ultimate “processed food.” But, thank goodness it doesn’t contain any GMOs.

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