Meat removal technique is hit by Brussels ban

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A technique used in the UK to remove meat from animal bones is to be banned this month following a moratorium by the European Commission, it was announced yesterday.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it had agreed to the moratorium but stressed there was no evidence of any risk to human health from eating cow and sheep meat produced from the low-pressure “Desinewed Meat” (DSM) removal technique.

The FSA said a “very small part” of the UK’s meat processing industry used the DSM technique to remove meat from animal bones, with the product closely resembling minced meat.

The FSA said the DSM process had been used in the UK since the mid-1990s, and local producers had reported that DSM meat was also exported by other EU countries such as Germany, Holland and Spain.

The agency said in a statement: “The FSA is clear that there is no evidence of any risk to human health from eating meat produced from the low-pressure DSM technique. There is no greater risk from eating this sort of produce than any other piece of meat or meat product. The EU Commission has informed us today they do not consider this to be an identified public health concern.”

The FSA said the EC had decided that DSM did not comply with EU single-market legislation and had therefore required the UK to impose a moratorium on producing meat products from the bones of cows and sheep using DSM by the end of April.

The FSA added: “If the UK were not to comply with the Commission’s ruling it would risk a ban on the export of UK meat products which would have a devastating impact on the UK food industry.”

The DSM process can still be used to remove meat from poultry and pigs but must now be classed and specifically labelled as “Mechanically Separated Meat” (MSM), and not simply as “meat”.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) condemned the EC’s moratorium as a “criminal waste of a valuable product” which would have “enormous implications” for producers, food manufacturers and some consumers.

BMPA director Stephen Rossides said: “While acceding to the Commission’s demands, the Government and we hold that current practice in the UK is lawful. This product is not MSM. It is meat, and there are no food safety concerns in its usage.

“This is a criminal waste of a valuable product at a time of a shortage of proteins, and when we are being urged to reduce food wastage. Common sense has gone out of the window.”

The BMPA said the requirement to label products as “mechanically separated meat” would substantially reduce its usage and value, and there would be costs for disposing of unwanted product.

It added that food products would have to be reformulated and relabelled at additional cost, and warned that the price to consumers would increase, “with a particularly unwelcome impact on less well-off households, since this product is widely used in value lines”.

The total cost of related job losses and other impacts is estimated at £200m.

Mr Rossides added: “The market implications of having to bow down to the Commission are huge. We look to the UK government to continue to defend the UK’s legal interpretation and established practice. All this has happened at break-neck speed. The industry must be given more time to adjust to any change in requirements and market circumstances in a controlled and properly managed way in order to minimise market disruption and financial damage.”

The Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani said: “We would like to stress that this is a technical issue around the interpretation of the definition of mechanically separated meat. We do not agree with the Commission’s interpretation as MSM and DSM are two very different products and research by Which? in 2011 confirmed that consumers clearly view DSM as distinct from MSM.

“Food manufacturers will continue to liaise with FSA officials to understand the impact of the Commission’s request to revise the UK interpretation of the definition of MSM to include desinewed meat (DSM).”

She added: “FDF supports a pragmatic approach to the required changes, including a reasonable timeframe for the transition, to avoid disproportionate measures that could lead to meat being wasted, causing a significant impact on the environment and on the price and availability of meat raw material.”