July 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a key ingredient in plant-based burger patties made by Impossible Foods, a rival to Beyond Meat , clearing the way for direct-to-consumer sales at U.S. grocery stores.
The FDA in a statement said it concluded soy leghemoglobin, a protein-based color additive Impossible Food uses to make its burgers look and "bleed" like real meat, was safe.
Impossible Foods in a statement said it plans to launch its Impossible Burger in select retail stores in September.
"We've always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100% confidence in our product," said Impossible Food's chief legal officer, Dana Wagner.
Objections to the FDA approval can be filed for 30 days, after which the direct sale of the beef imitation patties using soy leghemoglobin is allowed.
The Redwood City, California-based company, founded in 2016, is already selling its burger at some 10,000 fast food restaurants across the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau.
In the United States, it has partnered with Burger King , which will soon sell the "Impossible Whopper" in restaurants nationwide. The Impossible Burger is also sold at fast foods chains White Castle, Qdoba and Red Robin and at Disney theme parks.
Impossible Foods was able to sell the cooked burgers to consumers in restaurants, but required FDA approval to sell the patties in their uncooked, raw form.
Plant-based meat alternatives have seen booming interest from consumers and restaurants as consumers are looking to add more plant-based protein to their diet, amid growing concerns about health risks from eating meat, animal welfare and the environmental hazards of intensive animal farming.
Beyond Meat, another California-based meat alternatives company that sells its plant-based burgers and sausages at restaurants and in supermarkets, went public in May and has seen its shares surge over 780% since.
The plant-based trend has also sparked interest from meat companies such as Tyson Foods Inc and Perdue Foods, which now offer meat protein products mixed with plants.
Soy leghemoglobin, a protein Impossible Food markets as "heme" as the "magic ingredient" of its burgers, is found in the root nodules of plants. It closely resembles hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein found in red blood cells in humans and mammals.
Impossible Foods uses genetic engineering to scale up heme to production volumes. (Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)