A health advocacy group accused the government Monday of allowing fake meat made from fungus to be sold even though it makes people sick and demanded the product, known as Quorn, be recalled.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said it had received reports from 33 people who had suffered vomiting, diarrhea and other ailments after eating Quorn. A North Carolina man broke out in hives and had trouble breathing, the group said.
Quorn is the trade name for mycoprotein, which is used as a substitute for ground beef and chicken, and in lasagna and fettuccine Alfredo.
"Quorn mycoprotein has been proven to cause severe digestive reactions," Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director, said in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration. "Those reactions have led to fainting and dehydration, which could be life-threatening."
Because mycoprotein makes some people sick, it "cannot be considered Generally Recognized as Safe" — as designated by the FDA.
Labels on Quorn products say mycoprotein comes from a member of the mushroom family. But critics say that's a stretch and that the FDA should have studied it more before it hit the shelves in American supermarkets.
"The FDA's stance with regard to Quorn has been 'get sick first, ask questions later,"' Jacobson said. "This product was cavalierly waved through by the FDA with an alarming lack of curiosity" even though the government had seen evidence that it made people sick.
CSPI, citing documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said one study showed nearly 10 percent of people who ate Quorn reported feeling nauseated or sick to their stomachs.
An FDA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency was reviewing the information provided by CSPI and would evaluate all available data on Quorn before deciding how to proceed.
Quorn, introduced in Britain in 1985, arrived in U.S. supermarkets in January. Its popularity in Europe now rivals that of soyburgers and other meat substitutes.