The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sent a letter to Nestlé Monday, asking the Swiss-based food giant not to purchase Quorn, a line of frozen-meat substitutes shaped from a vat-grown protein product containing the fungus Fusarium venenatum.

Nestlé is one of several companies bidding for Premier Food’s Quorn unit, The Guardian newspaper reported.

CSPI, the U.S.-based nonprofit nutrition and food safety watchdog group, has waged a long campaign against Quorum, urging the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its “generally recognized as safe” designation or require it to be labeled as a potential allergen.

CSPI says products made with Fusarium venenatum can cause vomiting, diarrhea and anaphylactic reactions in some people with mold allergies.

Quorn, according to its website, is an all-natural meat-free product line available in the U.K. since 1985 and in the U.S. since 2002.  The company says it is the best-selling meat-free brand sold in natural food stores. 

The product is fermented in vats and then the chicken-flavored paste is fashioned to look like patties, nuggets, tenders, roasts, cutlets and meatballs.  It is marketed as a “mycoprotein.” 

In 2003, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson published a letter in the journal Allergy characterizing the adverse reactions of 284 Quorn consumers and CSPI maintains a website to collect such reports.  A subsequent article in the American Journal of Medicine reported that, according to a CSPI-commissioned telephone survey in Britain, a higher percentage of people believe they are sensitive to Quorn than to shellfish, milk, peanuts, wheat or other common allergens.

 “It was clearly a mistake for food safety regulators in Europe, the United States, and Australia to approve Quorn for human consumption in the first place,” Jacobson said in a press announcement Monday.  “It would be a real tragedy for a major food company like Nestlé to start marketing foods made with this harmful ingredient on a bigger scale. There’s so much concern about allergic reactions to conventional foods, so it’s especially inappropriate to broaden the marketing of an unnecessary and novel powerful allergen.”

 U.K.-based Premier Foods purchased the Quorn line from Marlow Foods five years ago. 

CSPI says Quorn’s manufacturer used to claim that its signature ingredient was “mushroom based.”   The company’s website now describes Fusarium venenatum as an edible fungus “like mushrooms, morels, or truffles.”

CSPI argues that Fusarium venenatum is quite unlike mushrooms, and “is actually a form of mold–some of which are edible and some not.” 

“We have so many safe, sustainable, and wholesome fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to enjoy on their own and from which to make meat substitutes,” Jacobson said in the press announcement.  “Why resort to vat-grown, allergenic mold? To me, Quorn seems better suited to dystopian science fiction than health food stores.”