Quorn will have to carry prominent labels in the US identifying it as a ‘mold’ with a risk of causing allergic reactions.
The change follows legal action and pressure from an American campaign group which alleges the death of two children may have been the result of eating the meat substitute product.
In the past, its marketing has suggested Quorn has similarities to mushrooms, truffles, and morels.
However, the product has been at the center of a long-running controversy in the US where the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has tried and failed to get it banned.
The group claims to have received approximately 2,500 reports from consumers of adverse reactions to Quorn products.
These include nausea, violent vomiting, diarrhea, and even life-threatening anaphylactic reactions after eating the Quorn products, which include substitutes for burgers, mince, sausages, steak, chicken and ready meals.
The CSPI claims the death of a 16-year-old girl in Sweden ‘may’ have been the result of eating a Quorn product. Both victims were known to suffer from asthma.
A wrongful death suit has also been filed by the parents of 11-year-old Miles Bengco, from Long Beach, California, who had a mold allergy and allegedly died of anaphylactic shock in 2013 after eating a Quorn product.
The company has dismissed the attacks on the product as ‘nonsense’ and says Quorn is as ‘benign as a potato’.
It has accused the CSPI of ‘deceiving the public’ and of being in league with manufacturers or rival meat alternatives made from soy.
It said the lawyers representing the Bengco family have made ‘false and unfounded allegations’.
The company says the teenager died as the result of an unrelated asthma attack.
And it said the death in Sweden was triggered by a peanut allergy and therefore the CSPI’s allegations were ‘irresponsible and dishonest’.
Quorn was first produced in the United Kingdom in 1985 by Marlow Foods, and sales have grown rapidly in recent years as people turn away from eating meat on health and ethical grounds.
The company has also run TV campaigns featuring endorsements from British Olympic athlete stars including long-distance runner Sir Mo Farah and swimmer Adam Peaty.
It is now owned by a food conglomerate, Monde Nissin Corporation, which is based in the Philippines.
It is described by the company as a mycoprotein. It is derived from the fungus or mould called Fusarium venenatum fungus and is grown in vats using a fermentation process which is similar to the production of beer or yogurt.
A long running court case in California over allegations the company was guilty of deceptive labelling has been resolved after the company agreed to use a new label.
The new label, which will only be used in America, will read: ‘Mycoprotein is a mold (member of the fungi family). There have been rare cases of allergic reactions to products that contain mycoprotein.’
The CSPI claims the change to the label represents a victory. Its litigation director, Maia Kats, said: ‘Consumers deserve to know that Quorn comes from mould, which sometimes causes serious gastrointestinal and breathing problems.
‘The labelling improvements we’ve negotiated with Quorn will help consumers understand what ‘mycoprotein’ is and that it sometimes does trigger adverse reactions.’
The manufacturer insists that Quorn is considerably safer and less likely to cause an adverse reaction than a product like soy.
As part of the settlement of the court case in California, the company will have to pay up to $1.35 million in legal fees to a customer who brought the initial legal case alleging deceptive labeling.
It must also refund customers who were misled by product labels and has initially set aside $2.5 million to cover these costs. Americans who swear under oath that they bought the items over a five year period will be able to claim up to $200.
Quorn chief executive, Kevin Brennan, said the company agreed to change the label to avoid expensive litigation. He described the new label and a decision to give it more prominence on packs as a technical change.
He said the labels on British packs have made clear Quorn is based on a fungi or mold with a small risk of an allergic reaction for some years.
‘We have sold about four billion Quorn products over 30 years and we know the safety record of the product is exceptional. Any form of reaction is exceptionally rare, perhaps one in 150,000,’ he said.
‘We give our data to allergy experts and they have described Quorn as benign as a potato. People can react to any food, but Quorn is exceptionally well tolerated.’
Mr Brennan said Quorn has an advantage over rival products in that the texture is particularly close to meat and appeals to the growing number of people who are cutting down on red meat and chicken.
SOURCE: Daily Mail – Sean Poulter