Documents considered by the Committee on 9 February 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

8   Use of mechanically separated meat



COM(10) 704

Commission Communication on the future necessity and use of mechanically separated meat in the European Union, including the information policy towards consumers

Legal base
Document originated2 December 2010
Deposited in Parliament10 December 2010
DepartmentFood Standards Agency
Basis of considerationUndated EM
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


8.1  Mechanically separated meat (MSM) is obtained by removing remaining meat from bones or poultry carcases, and it is an important raw material for the manufacturing of meat products and preparations. However, because of public health concerns — including a potential risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) — the use of bones from ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) as raw material for producing MSM has been banned in the EU since 2001, by virtue of Regulation (EC) No 999/2001. The Commission was asked in 2006 to assess the future necessity and use of MSM, including the information policy towards consumers, and it has now done so in this Communication.

The current document

8.2  The Communication — which the Commission says has been prepared following extensive consultation with Member States and the main stakeholder organisations — seeks to:

  • provide an overview of the current EU legal provisions related to MSM;
  • provide an overview and assessment on its production and use in the EU;
  • evaluate the implementation of EU provisions for the production and labelling of MSM, and to identify whether these need to be reviewed in the medium term.


8.3  The Commission notes that the definition of MSM contained in two pieces of EU legislation[48] is a generic one, covering all methods of mechanical separation in order to differentiate between MSM and cut or minced meat, and is flexible because of rapid technological developments. In essence, however, it requires MSM (i) to be derived from flesh-bearing bones after boning or from poultry carcases, (ii) to involve the use of mechanical means, and (iii) to result in the loss or modification of muscle fibre structure. The use of bones or bone-in cuts from cattle, sheep and goats for MSM production is prohibited in all Member States, and from imports of products originating from them, but the production and import of MSM from other species is allowed under certain hygiene and labelling requirements. In addition, Regulation (EC) No. 853/2004 lays down specific requirements for MSM production establishments and the raw materials from which it can be obtained, and the specific hygiene requirements to be complied with during and after its production, according to whether the MSM is obtained by low or high pressure extraction.

8.4  The Commission adds that MSM differs significantly from "meat" as perceived by consumers, and is therefore excluded from the latter definition in Commission Directive 2001/101/EC (which regulates the definition of meat for labelling purposes). As a result, it says that MSM and the species from which it is obtained must be specifically mentioned.


8.5  The Commission says that high pressure MSM (usually involving a pressure above 100 bar) results in a product with a characteristic and particularly pasty texture resulting from the loss or modification of muscle fibre, whereas low pressure MSM may result in a product which cannot readily be differentiated visually from minced meat. However, it adds that an evaluation of loss or modification of muscle fibre is possible using microscopic sections of meat.

8.6  The Commission says that four Member States have no establishments approved for the production of MSM, whilst others could not provide data differentiating between high and low pressure MSM, or the species from which MSM is derived. However, it estimates that just under 700,000 tonnes of MSM was produced in 2006-07 from 20 Member States; that, where the method of production was specified, 77% of MSM was high pressure; and that, where the species was indicated, 88% was derived from poultry, and more than 11% from pigs.[49] It says that the value of high pressure MSM reported by Member States varied from €0.3-0.6 per kg, with the corresponding figures for low pressure MSM being €0.6-1.5 per kg, and the total value of reported MSM production €400-900 million. MSM production from poultry represents 2-4% of total annual turnover of poultry meat, with equivalent figures of about 0.1-0.3% in the case of pigmeat.

8.7  The Commission says that low and high pressure MSM is mostly used for food for human consumption, though a limited amount of the high pressure variety is used for pet food. It says that 23 Member States have indicated that they wish to continue the production of MSM, though two of these allow only the low pressure method: and the majority of Member States consider that no specific food safety risks are associated with the use of MSM in food, given the requirements laid down in EU legislation, and in particular the ban on the use of MSM derived from bones from countries or regions with a controlled or undetermined BSE risk.

8.8  The Commission adds that the meat industry has expressed an interest in producing both kinds of MSM, particularly the higher quality low pressure variety, whereas it says consumers are concerned about the content of meat products on the market, and often associate MSM with cheap quality products. Thus, although consumers associations favour the use of MSM, this is on condition that it is properly labelled, and that clearer rules for its production and use are laid down. In particular, the Commission observes that it is unacceptable from a consumer point of view to include MSM within the definition of meat for labelling purposes.

8.9  The Commission observes that, whilst Member States have reported intra-EU trade in MSM, exact data had not been provided, but it estimates that about 150,000 tonnes of mainly high pressure MSM, or about 20% of EU production, was exported in 2008, principally to Russia and Ukraine. It also notes that imports of MSM were prohibited before the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, and that four establishments in New Zealand are allowed to export it to the EU.


8.10  The Commission says that evaluation of the system of official controls is part of the mission of its Food and Veterinary Office in Member States and third countries, and that, although certain shortcomings have been identified, conditions for the production, handling and use of MSM generally comply with EU requirements. It adds that visual or microscopic indicators can be used in relation to the production of MSM or its use as a raw material, but that the focus at the retail level is on the proper labelling of final products containing MSM. It points out that in general MSM can only be used in heat-treated meat products produced in approved establishments, but that low pressure MSM may, under certain conditions, also be used in meat preparations which are not intended to be consumed following heat treatment. It suggests that the public health risks from consuming meat preparations and products containing MSM produced in accordance with current hygiene provisions is negligible, and that there is thus no need for any change in the relevant legal provisions.

8.11  The Commission also considers implementation of the definition of MSM, and says that, if a technology for mechanical separation has been used in certain Member States, the product is considered as MSM, irrespective of whether "flesh-bearing bones after boning or poultry carcases" are used, or there is a clear loss or modification of muscle fibre structure, whereas other Member States require all elements in the definition of MSM to be observed — an approach which it says is supported by the meat industry. The Commission notes that the rapid technological developments in this area have resulted in some products with characteristics close or similar to those of minced meat, and should labelled accordingly, and it says that some businesses produce MSM from bones after heat treatment, whereas only fresh meat is considered to be a raw material for MSM production, leading to uncertainty as to whether the resulting product should be considered as MSM.

8.12  Finally, the Commission looks at the labelling requirements for low and high pressure MSM, observing that both are covered by the definition of MSM, and that the industry is content for high pressure MSM to be labelled as such. However, the industry believes that, if a product containing low pressure MSM cannot be visually differentiated from minced meat, it could be labelled as meat, regardless of the method of production. On the other hand, consumers believe that no differentiation should be made between the two types of MSM for labelling purposes, as few of them would understand the difference between high and low pressure MSM, and that the use of MSM must be indicated on labels.


8.13  The Commission summarises its position in the following terms:

  • due in part to its economic benefits, Member States and stakeholder meat organisations support the continued use of MSM, with only a few Member States preferring to use only low pressure MSM;
  • the risks to public health associated with the consumption of meat preparations and meat products when MSM is used as a raw material can be considered negligible, and therefore there is no need for any change to the relevant legal provisions;
  • there are no objections to the continued use of MSM from pigs and poultry, but there should be no reintroduction of MSM from cattle, sheep or goats;
  • there is a need to better define MSM products, and the Commission will produce a guidance document to better identify products which need to be considered as MSM (and, if appropriate, propose legislative amendments);
  • the obligation to label any use of MSM should be maintained to ensure that consumers are informed about the use of MSM in general, and there should continue to be no differentiation in the labelling provisions for low and high pressure MSM.

The Government's view

8.14  In her (undated) Explanatory Memorandum, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health (Anne Milton) says that this Communication has potential cost implications for UK industry if it were to be the basis for the Commission to bring forward proposals for new guidance and/or legislation.

8.15  In particular, she points out that the UK distinguishes between low pressure and high pressure MSM, the former being referred to a de-sinewed meat (DSM) and regarded as a meat preparation rather than MSM (as defined). She explains this on the basis that DSM can be distinguished from 'high pressure' MSM as it can be shown to retain muscle fibre structure, adding that examination by light microscopy can be used to assess whether there has been a loss or modification of internal muscle fibre structure. She says that the Government has funded the development of a simple microscopy method (which is available to UK public analyst laboratories) to assess the level of integrity of muscle fibre structure and the presence of other structural aspects in mechanically separated pork, chicken and turkey meat, and that it is in the process of evaluating whether the same method is suitable for the analysis of muscle fibre structure in beef and lamb MSM, DSM, de-boned and minced meat. She observes that the indications are that it is possible to use the existing light microscopy method to also assess the loss or modification of muscle fibre structure in the beef and lamb meat samples recovered mechanically and by hand, and that a high level of intact muscle structure was found in beef and lamb DSM in contrast to the low level seen in MSM.

8.16  The Minister goes on to point out that currently significant amounts of DSM are produced in the UK, and that, if the current Commission interpretation that DSM is MSM is confirmed in the guidance document, production from cattle and sheep bones or bone in cuts would be prohibited under Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) Regulations: in addition, DSM from pork and poultry would have to be re-classified as MSM, decreasing its value. She adds that the UK allows production of DSM as the product is a coarse, mince- like material that retains muscle fibre structure and is not therefore covered by the definition of MSM as set out in Hygiene and TSE legislation, and she suggests that the impact on the producers of de-sinewed lamb and beef meat is likely to be significant as a currently lucrative trade may have to cease.

8.17  The Minister notes that the Food Standards Agency advice is that DSM from beef and lamb does not present any risk to human health because:

  • no specified risk material (SRM) (the tissues most likely to contain TSE infectivity) or cuts of meat containing SRM can be used in the production of DSM;
  • the process of DSM production leaves the bones intact and no bone marrow enters the product.
  • the product is easily distinguishable from 'high pressure MSM', which produces a paste- like product, and which may represent a slightly higher (but still very low TSE risk) as the bones are broken and bone marrow enters the product (though experts have advised that the available evidence does not exclude the possibility that infectivity may occur occasionally at a low level in the bone marrow of animals showing clinical signs of BSE).

8.18  In particular, the Minister says that the Government does not agree with the conclusions reached by the Commission, specifically on the status of DSM, and will work with it and other Member States to find a sensible solution to the issues identified, arguing that the Commission's interpretation of the current legislation would have the effect of reducing the value that can be derived from the carcases of slaughtered animals without any food safety benefit. She says that the Government intends to write to the Commission to put forward these views, and that in the meantime the FSA has assured the British Meat Processor's Association (BMPA) — which has already expressed its concern about the Commission Communication — that production of DSM can continue for the time being.

8.19  She says that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is aware that at least six other Member States produce DSM, and that recent correspondence with the French authorities has confirmed that they too wish for a distinction to be made between mechanical separation at high and low pressure. The FSA will also prepare an impact assessment in consultation with the industry, and will firm up any figures on the basis of discussions with the Commission and Member States in advance of any formal proposal emerging. In the meantime, as there are no proposals for change at present, no formal consultation is envisaged, but one is likely to follow once the Commission publishes its guidance or proposals for legislative change.


8.20  Whilst there appears to be general agreement on the treatment of high pressure MSM, there are clearly significant differences of opinion over the product referred to by the Commission as low pressure MSM, but which the UK prefers to call de-sinewed meat (DSM), and the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum raises a number of questions.

8.21  First, it is not clear to us the extent to which the UK's decision to refer to that product as DSM is because this is a term with which the industry feels more comfortable, or because it reflects a view that the nature of the product does not correspond with the definition of MSM in the relevant EU legislation. If the latter is the case, we assume it is related to the extent to which there is a loss or modification of muscle fibre structure, but it would be interesting to have a fuller explanation of why the UK makes this distinction, and in particular what impact the UK interpretation has on the application of the EU legislation in question. For example, if DSM is not regarded as MSM is it subject to the labelling provisions on MSM and is there any restriction on the use of ruminant bones for its production?

8.22  Secondly, we would be interested to know whether the Commission's view reflects advice from the European Food Safety Authority, and, if not, what view the Authority has taken on this issue.

8.23  Thirdly, we are struck by the extent to which the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum concentrates on the possible implications of the Commission's Communication for the food industry: and, whilst this may be a legitimate concern, she makes little or no reference to the views of UK consumers. We would, therefore, like to know whether they share the concerns attributed by the Commission to consumers generally.

8.24  We would be grateful for clarification on these various points, and in the meantime we will continue to hold the document under scrutiny.

48   Regulation (EC) No 999/2001 (the TSE Regulation) and Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 (laying down specific rules for food of animal origin). Back

49   No details of the species of origin were available for about one-third of overall production, but the Commission describes the production of MSM from species other than poultry or pigs as "negligible". Back

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