The American Meat Institute is striking back at reports that “meat glue,” a binding agent often used to patch together pieces of beef and other protein, is unsafe and unnatural.
In an occasionally touchy conference call Thursday, the trade group said that the USDA considers such substances to be safe and requires its presence to be noted on retail labels. The product, however, isn’t always disclosed when it’s served at restaurants and other food service outlets, experts said.
But using the binding substance to weave together high-quality cuts such as filet mignon with lower-priced meat such as chuck steak is “patently illegal,” said Mark D. Dopp, the institute’s general counsel.
Such "Frankenstein" meat would be easily discernible to diners and not condoned by the industry, he said.
California state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) recently called on the USDA to investigate such products, including options made by Fibrimex and Ajinomoto North America.
Ajinomoto uses transglutaminate, a “ubiquitous enzyme found in nature, basically every animal, in our tissues, in plants, trees and vegetables,” the company's Senior Vice President Brendan Naulty said on the conference call. Besides its meat applications, it is also used in products such as bread, yogurt and imitation crab.
Fibrimex uses fibrinogen and thrombin proteins, which company representative Christiaan Penning said was “designed by nature … but used in a more intelligent way.”
Such binding products are used on only about 8 million of the roughly 26 billion pounds of meat consumed annually, or less than half of 1%, Dopp said.
About 400 restaurants have registered to buy transglutaminate in the last decade, Naulty said. Meat adhesives are also found in retail stores, catering outfits, tourist attractions and elsewhere.
The products are usually found connecting two equivalent cuts, such as beef tenderloin, said Dana Hanson, a meat scientist at North Carolina State University. Concerns about bacteria hiding out on the surface area of such combined meats are overblown, Hanson said.
“There have been no negative food safety issues associated with these products,” he said.