by Heather Callaghan
My meat contains what? Why didn’t I know? More than likely, we have all consumed a substance known as Transglutaminase (TG) from delis and possibly restaurants.
Basically, a glue is used to piece together scraps of meat to sell as a whole cut. The glue lines are invisible to the naked eye.
Stories about glue in our meat are cropping up everywhere causing great dismay. If there was ever a time that people should shout “Franken” in front of “food,” it is now. And literally — as scraps from other parts of the animal or different animals are combined to create a seamless whole.
How It Works
Japan’s Animoto Company produces the product as Activa. The TG or Thrombian is a coagulation protein. Together with a fibrous protein, fibrin, a glue enzyme is developed which permanently binds meat pieces together. This coagulant is created using blood from cows, pigs, sometimes chickens and apparently through fermentation of certain bacteria .
Watch how it works in the video below — notice the masks and gloves?
Video update: it is no longer heavily banned in European or North American nations.
What started out as a way to cleverly secure different animal meats (like bacon wrapped tenderloins, or pasta made from shrimp) into a decorative array, could be one of the industry’s most potentially overused and best-kept secrets.
Reasons Why So Many People Are Outraged
Low Quality Food — Reassembling scraps is one more way food producers can sell more, while lowering the quality of what you consume. Meat glue is certainly a boon to various parts of the meat industry — who wouldn’t want to use pieces they normally throw away but can sell at premium prices? But, who wants to pay more for scraps?
Lifestyles — Imagine trying to a live a Kosher lifestyle and finding out later you’ve unwittingly violated your most deeply held beliefs? Meat glue is not a part of the Paleo diet, although meat is. What about people who prefer their meat rare and medium-rare?
It is also implicated in the use of certain dairy products !
No labels — What we don’t know deserves to be seen. Meat glue is rarely if ever labeled because it is not considered part of the formulation of the product — meat.
You might see it labeled on something like imitation crab as “meat composite product.” But did you know it’s a part of the process of other slurry type foods like chicken nuggets? That’s what enables those funky dinosaur shapes.
Although it is considered a “processing aid,” it is an ingredient that stays in the end product. When is a “processing aid” finally considered a food additive?
Within the last two years, the United States, along with Canada, Australia, and all but one of the European Union nations opted for its mass approval.
The US is not the only country to draw opponents: “We do not want this at all — it is meat make-up,”said Jan Bertoft at the Swedish Consumer’s Association. A German minister called on its industries to be transparent and truthful, but failed to use authority to actually hold food producers accountable.
The FDA recognizes TG as GRAS (generally recognized as safe); another reason it does not have to be labeled or cautioned.
Safety Concerns — In the last couple of years, we have witnessed a series of tragic foodborne illness outbreaks. When multiple pieces are globbed together, bacteria have a better chance for rapid growth, especially in the seams.
“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.
The meat creations are implicated as a threat for E. coli outbreaks.
It is nearly impossible to cook the meat thoroughly as a whole — the parts of the seams do not cook evenly with the rest of the meat.
As Gaye Levy pointed out in her piece, the USDA recommends cooking glued meat to 165 degrees. How is anyone to know about handling it safely if they do not first know that they have it?
Is it safe for those with gluten intolerance? Is it possible people are already experiencing food allergies but don’t know the cause?
As you could see from the video above — it is not a safe ingredient to handle. The demonstrator says, “It’s dangerous s***.”
In the last year, information about meat glue has exploded across the Net. It smacks of betrayal to discover later you’ve already consumed untold amounts of a previously unknown substance. The fact that people must search so diligently for what’s in their meal staple is disconcerting to say the least. It is now making the rounds of mainstream media outlets everywhere.
Since it is considered by the USDA and FDA as safe and unnecessary to label, banning or regulating its use is more than unlikely. Would the consumer continue buying such meats if they were clearly labeled? Maybe, maybe not. But they deserve to know what they’re actually eating; and this silent move on the part of the meat industry could backfire, as sore feelings cause people to opt for different meal choices.
Many are already swarming around farmers markets and small-farm private buying clubs to purchase grass fed meats where they can witness and hold accountable every process of the food.
Ultimately, the consumer has the most control. It is up to us to research and ask questions before spending. You are the one paying money; you are the one ingesting it; you have a right to know. It might annoy the butcher or server, but it never hurts to ask for more information.