The Australian current affairs program, TodayTonight, released a special report in March on meat glue called “The industry-wide secret butchers don’t want you to know about”.
The report reveals how butchers use meat glue to join together scrap pieces of meat, passing them off as prime cuts; and the report warns that this method can increase the risk of food poisoning.
“Meat glue or Transglutaminase is an enzyme produced through various methods. Some are made from the blood plasma of cows and pigs (the coagulant that makes blood clot), while others are produced through the cultivation of bacteria”. [source]
TodayTonight’s damning video has incensed food writer Dave Arnold, who claims the report is “horse hockey”; Arnold has devoted an entire article — The Trials of TransglutaminaseThe Misunderstood Magic of Meat-Glue — aimed at discrediting their report.
Arnold claims the show’s video segment showing a commercial restructured piece of meat could not possibly have been sold as a prime cut [insert laugh track]. Why? Because in the U.S., says Arnold, any meat that has been glued or restructured must be labeled “formed”or “reformed”.
Arnold cites an FSIS ruling in which, says Arnold, “Ajinomoto [a Japanese company that produces TG, or Transglutaminase] fought to make sure that glued meats are clearly labeled as restructured…[because] they wanted to to use TG without being required to add ‘enzyme’ to the ingredient label”.
Arnold refutes all the report’s claims but one: TodayTonight’s report claims meat glued steak contains hundreds of more bacteria compared to a solid piece of steak. Arnold concedes that meat glue can increase the bacteria count in meat, which we all know can potentially lead to food poisoning.
That fact alone should be enough to cause consumers to be leery of meat glue. “If there is a bacteria outbreak, it’s much harder to figure out the source when chunks of meat from multiple cows were combined,”said Keith Warriner who teaches food science at University of Guelph.
And when cooking a meat glued steak, once you glue two pieces of meat together, it’s difficult to cook thoroughly those parts that were on the outside, that are now on the inside.
Arnold disagrees with the report’s claim that meat glue is an industry wide secret, and says glued meat is easily identifiable because the “bonds in a glued piece of meat are clearly visible”. Arnold also claims that meat glue is NOT banned in the EU, as TodayTonight’s report suggests.
Besides producing Transglutaminase under the name Activa, Ajinomoto Co. is a Japanese biotech company that manufacturers and markets processed foods, and is a leading supplier and marker of Aspartame in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The 2001 FSIS report Arnold cites does indeed require that when glued meat or [Transglutaminase] TG enzyme is used to fabricate or reform cuts of meat or poultry, “the resulting product must be labeled to indicate that it has been formed from pieces of whole muscle meat, or that it has been reformed from a single cut”.
That doesn’t necessarily mean glued meat WILL BE LABELED as such, either in a market, deli case, restaurant, or in frozen meals that contain processed meats.
Lois Rain with Food Facts point out, that “invariably, industry justifies use of these so-called meat glues because they are used only during processing and resist declaring it in the label obviously maintaining that it is not a part of the formulation of the product.”
Additionally, meat glue may be easy to spot for a chef or butcher, but not for consumers who aren’t specifically looking for, or even remotely aware of, meat glue.
Meat Glue (TG or Transglutaminase) is commonly used to:
¢ Make uniform portions that cook evenly, look good, and reduce waste
¢ Bind meat mixtures like sausages without casings
¢ Make novel meat combinations like lamb and scallops
Transglutaminase has also been used by well-known chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Wylie Dufresne, chef of New York’s restaurant wd~50.
Arnold acknowledges that the EU banned meat glue from bovine and porcine Thrombin, but claims a there is a second type of TG (Transglutaminase) all the chefs use which is produced by a naturally-occurring microbe that has not been banned.
The European Parliament voted to ban bovine and porcine Thrombin, and said meat glue has no proven benefit for consumers and might be misleading.
The Parliament estimated that there is “a clear risk that meat containing Thrombin would find its way into meat products served in restaurants or other public establishments serving food, given the higher prices that can be obtained for pieces of meat served as a single meat product”.
The German chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee said that “consumers in Europe should be able to trust that they are buying a real steak or ham, not pieces of meat that have been glued together”.
But according Lois Rain, in April all but one of the European Union nations voted in favor of using Thrombian, or Transglutaminase (TG). They now join other developed nations such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia who approved the product.
Rain adds that the Swedish government’s recent approval of the use of Thrombian prompted the Swedish Consumers’ Association and politicians to join together to criticize this approval. “We do not want this at all -” it is meat make-up,”Jan Bertoft of the Association told IceNews, a daily Icelandic newspaper.
“The problem is that Thrombian-enhanced products look like real meat. It is the dishonesty in it that makes us think that it is not okay,”said Bertoft. For example, pork tenderloin can have numerous small parts fused together to produce what will appear to be a full fillet.
Should Consumers Be Concerned?
For ten years, from 1998 through 2008, a group of high-ranking corporate purchasing managers from some of the most well-known and largest food companies in North America were involved in racketeering, bribery, conspiracy, price fixing, bid rigging, and falsifying laboratory tests.
The name of the game in any industry is maximizing profits. The odds are in favor of some unscrupulous butchers and meat companies using meat glue to enhance the perceived quality of meat, whether to promote phony prime cuts or used as meat in soups, frozen meals, and processed foods.
Meat glued steak contains hundreds of more bacteria compared to a solid piece of steak, which even Arnold admits. “The most important information I give chefs in meat glue training is be aware that using TG can introduce bacteria into the interior of your product,” says Arnold.
The US CDC estimates that at least six to 81 million Americans get foodborne illnesses annually, claiming up to 9,000 lives a year.
Over a half a billion eggs contaminated with salmonella were shipped to food stores before finally being recalled last year. And year after year, millions of pounds of beef and poultry contaminated with E. coli always seems to find its way past the half open eyes of understaffed government food regulators.
Somehow I doubt that a specialized search in earnest for “unlabeled” meat glued together with TG is a high priority for sleepy, indifferent government food regulators that missed finding a half billion contaminated eggs. Chances are you already have, or will eat meat clue in the future without knowing it. No more rare steaks.