Desinewed meat, produced with low-pressure separation equipment to remove flesh from meaty bones, is outlawed in the United Kingdom beginning tomorrow.
The UK’s Food Safety Agency is imposing what it calls a moratorium on the product it considers to be perfectly safe in order to satisfy the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office.
Nobody in the UK is happy about it, especially the way the EC’s Food and Veterinary Office in Brussels went about making it happen. After a routine March 6-14 visit to the UK, the EC office on March 28 wrote FSA to demand that low-pressure desinewed meat be categorized and labeled as mechanically separated meat (MSM).
The UK had five days to respond, and if it did not go along, British minced meat, meat products and meat preparations could be barred from the EU market.
And the Catch 22 was that ruminant bones used in producing desinewed meat with low pressure are prohibited in anything labeled as MSM.
That brought the first moratorium, imposed on April 28, prohibiting ruminant bones in desinewed meat. It will be extended to cover poultry and pork bones on Saturday, May 26, unless there is a last-minute reprieve.
Tim Smith, FSA’s executive director, says the agency has opted to use the word “moratorium” rather than “ban” because it does not want to give the impression the action is permanent.
In his report on the issue, Smith said desinewed meat has the appearance, taste and texture of minced meat. He said there is no increased risk to public health arising from the low-pressure technique.
Because of the EU’s action, the first formal risk assessment by UK’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens is underway. Smith said much information already exists on the safety of desinewed meat.
The Food Safety Agency has come under fire for its part in carrying out the moratorium for a meat product it considers safe. Members of Parliament (MPs) serving on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said FSA had “rolled over.”
In his report to the FSA board, Smith said the agency took the actions only after “intensive cross government liaison.” Previously, Smith admitted to being taken aback by the “disproportionate reaction” of the EC.
The UK is not the only European country producing desinewed meat, making a possible challenge to the UC’s action for likely. The EC reportedly agrees the meat is safe.
“We are the food safety regulator,” says Jeff Rooker, FSA board chairman, “We are not the cheerleader for industry, but industry has been dealt with most unfairly in the way this issue has been dealt by the EC.”
The moratorium on desinewed meat, a low-pressure, low-tech process, is unrelated to the high-pressure, high-tech process used to make lean finely textured beef (LFTB), usually called “pink slime” in the popular media.
Separating meat from bone is what makes desinewed meat. Separating fat from meat results in LFTB. At the moment, however, one thing the two processes have in common is that both are banned by the EC.
British meat experts say the loss of desinewed meat will result in estimated economic losses of £200 million. Newby Foods, a desinewed meat producer, has laid off 40 workers.