From May 26, all pork and poultry products sold in the UK which were previously called DSM will by law have to be labelled in the ingredients list as mechanically separated meat (MSM) .
But because there is no test capable of detecting the presence of DSM in processed meat products – such as cheap chicken and pork sausages, burgers and pies – imports from countries that continue to use this material without labelling it as MSM will probably go undetected.
Britain’s meat processors are worried that this loophole will be a particular issue for operators in Continental countries that are not so rigorously policed as those the UK.
The main problem is that MSM carries very negative connotations for many UK consumers, following various press exposés on the technique used for recovering cheaper parts of meat carcasses.
Mechanically separated meat
MSM is a paste-like meat product produced by forcing beef, pork, or chicken, under high pressure through a sieve to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue in a process which breaks the structure of the meat down. In contrast, DSM is obtained using low pressure to extract the meat from the bones, so you are left with something like minced meat, and it retains its fibre structure.
It is known that a number of manufacturers in Europe use DSM in their products, said a Food Standards Agency (FSA) spokesman. And UK meat processors fear they will continue illegally exporting them into the UK without labelling them as MSM when the rules change. Because there is no test available to scientifically differentiate DSM from hand de-boned meat (which does not have to be labelled as MSM) in the products, these imports would go largely unnoticed, said Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson, legislation and technical manager at the British Meat Processors Association.
“This puts the UK at a complete disadvantage,” said Andoh-Kesson. “There is nothing to stop European manufacturers from pushing DSM products without MSM labels across our shores.”
This situation offers a significant competitive advantage to these Continental firms over UK operators, argued Richard Benson, md of FR Benson, an ingredients company that specialises in dried meat powders. They can use the cheaper DSM ingredient without fear of detection or of alienating consumers with an MSM label, he said. It would result in a loss of sales for UK manufacturers, particularly at the value end of the market where price often determined consumer choices, he warned
Checks on food imports
Although the FSA would audit UK suppliers to ensure compliance with the changes, there is no guarantee that authorities in other EU countries would apply the same standards to products exported to the UK, said Benson. It would be up to UK authorities in charge of UK food imports to ensure compliance with the regulations, he added.
The problem is made more intractable, though, because a test that would differentiate between DSM and hand deboned mince is virtually impossible to devise, said Kathy Groves, consultant microscopist at Leatherhead Food Research. The testing of muscle structure would be inconclusive because mince from hand de-boned meat can easily have more structural damage than DSM if it has been frozen or run through a machine to remove connective tissues, said Groves. Scientists have not been able to develop a test for protein that can conclusively link it to the method of production, she added.