Food Law News - UK - 2001

FSA Statement, 9 August 2001

BSE - Food Standards Agency Position on Mechanically Recovered Meat

The Food Standards Agency is drawing up plans to try to find out in which meat products mechanically recovered meat (MRM) derived from cattle was used in the 1970s and 1980s.

The information will be used by SEAC - the group of independent science experts who advise the Government on BSE related issues - to help them estimate the possible exposure of people to BSE at that time.

The Agency has already had preliminary discussions with the two relevant trade associations, the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT) and the British Meat Manufacturing Association (BMMA) who have said they will work with the Agency in order to gather as much information as possible.

There may be some limitations on the amount and type of information available because there is no requirement under current food law for meat manufacturers to keep a record of such information. In addition, it may be difficult to trace some meat producers and butchers from the 1970s and 1980s as they may no longer be trading.

Mechanically recovered meat is a product obtained by recovering residual raw meat from bones under high pressure after other boning processes have been completed. It has been made from beef, pig, sheep or chicken bones. It is known to have been used in products such as cheaper burgers, sausages and pies. It cannot legally be added to minced meat.

It is thought that vCJD in people may have been caused by eating BSE-infected cheaper beef products containing MRM. Therefore, the Food Standards Agency, as stated in its Review of BSE controls published last year, believes that present rules relating to MRM must be rigorously followed and enforced.

In 1995 MRM made from bovine backbone was banned from use in meat products in the UK because it may contain traces of spinal cord. Spinal cord is one of the body parts identified as most likely to be infectious where animals have BSE. Such body parts which also include brains, tonsils and intestines are known as specified risk materials (SRM). It has been illegal for spinal cord to be used in food since 1989.

In 1998 the bovine backbone ban was extended to MRM from the backbone of any ruminant animal. This extended ban is now included in the EU-wide SRM rules, which have been in place since 1 October 2000.

The presence of MRM in meat products must be listed clearly on food labels, this must include the animal from which any MRM is derived. Local authorities enforce this requirement and can fairly easily check the UK producers are complying with regulations. The Agency did recognise in its BSE controls review that it is impossible to check that imported meat products comply with this rule, but a test is being developed which would help check for illegal MRM in imported meat products.

Further information about BSE and the Food Standards Agency's review of BSE controls can be found on the website:

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