The US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has called on the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to stop what it calls the "deceptive labelling" of a new, fungus-based meat substitute being marketed by Marlow Foods under the brand name Quorn.
The CSPI also questioned the adequacy of the product's testing, which did not include tests for allergenicity.
The organisation said that despite label claims that the key ingredient in Quorn is "mushroom in origin", Quorn products contain no mushrooms. In fact, the ingredient called "mycoprotein" is a fungus known as Fusarium venenatum and although it is a naturally-occuring product, "it is not what the average consumer expects in a food claiming to be 'made from natural ingredients'," the CSPI said.
"Consumers aren't surprised to find mushrooms in a meat substitute," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. "But they would be surprised to find that a fungus - one never before in the American food supply - has quietly found its way into grocery stores, without the kind of government scrutiny a new food deserves. Despite the deceptive labelling, Quorn's mycoprotein has nothing to do with mushrooms. It is a fungus and should be labelled as such."
According to the CSPI, Quorn's label describes the key ingredient as "an unassuming member of the mushroom family, which we ferment as yoghurt." Although both mycoprotein and yoghurt are the result of a fermentation process, the products are entirely dissimilar, the CSPI's claims. With mycoprotein, the fermentation process is not just modifying a main ingredient, like milk in the case of yoghurt, fermentation is actually the means of creating the ingredient in Quorn. If the FDA allows the obscure term "mycoprotein" to be used in Quorn's ingredient listings, the CSPI claims, packages should be required to disclose clearly the product's fungal origins.
Another concern raised by the CSPI is that some of the novel proteins in the mycoprotein might cause allergic reactions. "With genetically engineered foods, such as StarLink corn, even minute amounts of individual possibly allergenic proteins have kept products off the market. Quorn's mycoprotein, by contrast, is not genetically engineered, but would introduce thousands of new proteins into the food supply - and they would be consumed in far larger amounts than the novel proteins in genetically engineered foods," the centre said in a statement
"Even though the mycoprotein has not caused a large number of allergic reactions in European consumers, the FDA should require Quorn's parent company, AstraZeneca, to test whether any of the new proteins share the properties of known allergens. Companies typically perform such tests on the new proteins in their genetically engineered products."
The CSPI said that Marlow Foods had approximately $150 million (€173m) in European sales of Quorn products in 2001, and the product is just arriving in supermarkets and health food stores in the US.