Perhaps consumers should start to ask why supermarkets can sell processed meat products so cheaply.
The European Commission took a decision in April 2012 to ban desinewed meat, which was a key ingredient in value food items such as pies, lasagne, burgers and other processed beef products.
This lead food producers to go outside the UK to source supplies of cheap mince to enable the supermarkets to continue selling manufactured beef products at ridiculously low prices.
When producers go abroad, the chain gets longer and documentation is relied alone for authenticity.
Desinewed Meat & Pink Slime
Desinewed meat (DSM) was introduced in the UK in the 1990s as a replacement for mechanically recovered meat (MRM). Sometimes called “pink slime”, MRM was formed by removing residual meat from animal bones using high pressure water.
Pink Slime is lean finely textured beef made from fatty beef carcass off-cuts, then heated and spun in a centrifuge to remove most of the fat, and then exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
It had been linked to the spread of the human form of mad cow disease and the UK government took steps to restrict it from the food chain.
DSM was developed as a higher quality form of recovered meat. It was produced using low pressure, retained some structure and was regarded as a meat ingredient on value products.
But in April last year, the European Commission told the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that it no longer regarded DSM as a form of meat and it would have to reclassify it as MRM, which meant it could no longer be used in low-cost meat items.
Manufacturers who were using it for value products had to leave the UK food chain and go and look at overseas suppliers at a price similar to DSM and this is where I think things potentially started to go wrong.
Not Just Beef Products
The possibility has been raised that lamb products might need testing to reassure consumers that horse had not been used as an ingredient. Desinewed lamb was used quite extensively in some products, and since the ban suppliers would also have needed to look outside the UK for a replacement.
DSM was being produced in quite significant quantities, especially for the kebab industry, so the only sure way is to look into the issue and test.
While the on-going incidents of horsemeat in the food chain appear to be acts of criminality, the recent scandal highlights that it is vitally important to have adequate food labelling, particularly with respect to meat in processed food products. Mandatory country of origin labelling on all meat products has been a long-standing campaign, and it is clear to us that more stringent country of origin labelling would foster improved traceability systems, making it harder for unlabelled meat to enter the food chain.
A poll conducted by the Countryside Alliance Foundation (TCAF) in May 2011, showed that 90 per cent of people supported the proposal that a British flag should only be given to meat products where the animal has been born, reared and slaughtered in Britain.
Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North stated “the lack of mandatory country of origin food labelling continues to place British farmers at a disadvantage when much of their competition comes from producers in countries, which are not subject to such robust animal welfare legislation and standards and the associated costs.”
While the European Parliament voted in July 2011 to extend mandatory country of origin labelling to fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry, mandatory country of origin labelling still does not include foods where meat is an ingredient, such as sausages and ready meals. So sausages made in Britain using Danish pork can still be legitimately be labelled as ‘British’. This is unacceptable, both for British producers, who produce meat to some of the highest standards and consumers, who should be able to make an informed choice.