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Agency Says Sausage Makers Seek Rules Change

April 3, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group of sausage makers asked that federal rules be changed to let food processors use a certain amount of mechanically salvaged meat without explaining on labels exactly what it contains, including finely ground bits of bone, the Agriculture Department said Friday.

The petition, open for public comment until June 1, involves a decade-old controversy over what is now called ″mechanically separated″ meat and its use in processed food items such as hotdogs, sausage, scrapple, canned spaghetti with meat sauce, and other items.

Officials said the changes are being sought by Bob Evans Farms Inc., Columbus, Ohio; Odom Sausage Co., Madison, Tenn.; Sara Lee Corp., Memphis, Tenn.; and Owens County Sausage Inc., Richardson, Texas.

Rodney E. Leonard of the Community Nutrition Institute said, ″We would be very opposed″ to any move aimed at reducing consumer information on labels of products containing the salvaged meat.

″We fought for a very long time to try to make sure that if the product is used the consumer would be aware of it,″ Leonard said.

The product involved is meat salvaged from parts of an animal’s carcass that are hard to trim by hand, such as neck bones, ribs and other parts where some meat is left on and discarded with the bones.

Such meat can be salvaged by grinding up the parts and forcing the mixture through sieves. Although most bone is strained out, some small particles - about the size of black pepper flakes - wind up in the final mixture.

The mixture then can be combined with other meat to make certain processed food items.

After being first proposed in 1976 as ″mechanically deboned meat″ or MDM, the plan gained approval in 1978 and then was subjected to years of stop-and- go tactics, including scientific reviews and court challenges by consumer groups, including the Community Nutrition Institute, a private, non-profit organization based in Washington.

The legal battles were settled in late 1984, but the industry says the meat-salvaging process has developed such a negative image among consumers that it is not being used.

As it stands now, mechanically separated pork or beef - known as MSP or MSB - can be used to comprise up to 20 percent of the total meat portion of a product. The labels have to identify the product as containing ″mechanically separated pork″ or beef and must inform consumers when the product’s calcium content exceeds a certain amount per serving.

However, the current labels do not have to explain about ″ground bone″ and other contents as they did prior to 1982, when meat processors complained that the old labeling rules called ″unnecessary attention″ to what was in the products.

The sausage makers want further changes, including an optional labeling choice to eliminate the term ″mechanically separated″ meat if the salvaged meat is held to no more than 10 percent of the meat portion of the final product.

Processors would retain the option of using the MSP or MSB as a replacement for up to 20 percent of the meat and would have to abide by current labeling rules.

Written comments about the petition can be sent by June 1 to: USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Attn: FSIS Docket Clerk, Room 3168-S, Washington, D.C. 20250. The comments should refer to docket 86-049N.

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