First it was “pink slime” horrifying consumers in the US, now it’s emerged that millions of Americans are also consuming “meat glue” each week.
The additive is used to produce not only meats found in fast food outlets, but also supermarkets, local delis and restaurants.
Even vegetarian foods have been found to contain “meat glue.”
The two main types of "meat glue"
The “meat glue” is made up two major types, the first transglutaminase Activa, a white powder form of a natural coagulant-like enzyme called transglutaminase.
The other type is Fibrimex, which is made of enzymes extracted from pig or beef blood by a process developed in the Netherlands.
According to the companies who make the “meat glue” they were designed to bond pieces of protein or irregularly shaped meat so it can be cut and cooked evenly by the food-service industry.
Food scientists told Scripps News Network the two cold-binding agents are used to reduce the use of sodium phosphate, sodium alginate, carrageenan, sodium caseinate and other chemicals that had been used for decades to form and mold meat.
Despite US laws requiring labelling to disclose the inclusion of the two brands of protein adhesive are apparently being ignored, according to an investigation by Scripps Howard News Service, which found almost none of the companies tested declared the additive.
Over five months, Scripps examined over 130 meats and deli products in Seattle, Milwaukee, Omaha and Denver which food scientists found contained the adhesive mixtures, but only four of them had the word “enzymes” on the ingredients list.
No companies would discuss the use of the additive, but it is estimated by food scientists that it is found in up to 35 per cent of all sliced ham, beef, chicken, fish, pizza toppings and other deli meats.
Cold cut processors and fast food outlets including McDonald’s and Arby’s were contacted by Scripps to discuss the use of the additive, but all declined to comment, on whether they use transglutaminase or blood-extract products, raising concerns over the use of processing products.
While the government regulates that the use of the product should be included on a product’s ingredient list, producers can use a loophole which defines binders as a “processing aid.”
Is this the next "pink slime?"
Similarly to the “pink slime,” which is used as a cheap ground-beef filler, meat glue is not considered a health risk by federal food watchdogs, but consumers are disgusted and frightened by the inclusion of such additives.
After much publicity in 2011 and 2012, the use of pink slime has fallen in the US, although there are reports it is still being used in school lunches.
Experts say the US food industry needs to be accountable for it’s actions and be more transparent with consumers.
“For decades, the meat industry has conveniently operated in the dark, not sharing the dirty details of their practices with the public, while the federal government looked the other way,” Michele Simon, a policy consultant for the Center for Food Safety, told Scripps.
“But now, consumers are demanding to know the truth about what they are.
"We need more transparency in a food system that puts profits before people.”
The impact on religion and diet
The undeclared use of Activa and Fibrimex can cause issues for people with beliefs or dietary restrictions.
Jewish or Muslim consumers could be eating pork products chicken or fish pieces without being aware and vegetarians could be unknowingly consuming meat in their apparently “meat-free” products.
“There may be economic adulteration going on here, and the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) or the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) needs to look at whether laws are being violated,” Tony Corbo, legislative representative for the national consumer group Food & Water Watch said.
“We are especially appalled that certain consumers’ religious beliefs may be unknowingly violated because food manufacturers are hiding what goes into the production of these binding agents.”
The Australian standards
A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) told Food Magazine in a statement that the use of the enzyme, transglutaminase, as a processing aid is permitted under the Processing Aids of the food standards Code.
“Like all processing aids, the safety and function of this enzyme was thoroughly assessed before it was permitted to be included in the Code,” the spokesperson said.
Clause 6 of the Meat and Meat Products of the Code states that “Where raw meat has been formed or joined in the semblance of a cut of meat using a binding system without the application of heat, whether coated or not, a declaration that the meat is either formed or joined, in conjunction with cooking instructions indicating how the microbiological safety of the product can be achieved must be included on the label; or if the food is not required to be labelled, must be provided to the purchaser."
“This mandatory information requirement applies to all raw meat that has been formed or joined and is available for retail sale,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.
“Where there may be compliance concerns, for example raw meat that is joined or formed being sold without the required labelling, consumers can approach the relevant enforcement agencies with their concerns.
“In addition, where the physical form of the formed or joined meat is labelled in a manner that implies the meat is a whole cut (for example, raw formed or joined meat labelled as ‘steak’), such representations could be considered deceptive or misleading to consumers and would fall under Australian Consumer Law.
“This legislation is administered and enforced jointly by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the state and territory consumer protection agencies.”
What do you think of these kinds of additives? Are they necessary? Should there be more stringent labelling rules?