I-Team

Full responses to I-Team 'meat glue' investigation

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Senator's Ted W. Lieu of Torrance's letter to the USDA

May 3, 2012

Alfred V. Almanza, Administrator
Food Safety and Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250-3700

Via fax (202 205-0158) and mail

Dear Administrator Almanza:

Recent media investigations have revealed that transglutaminase, also known as "meat glue," may pose health risks to consumers. Meat glue is used to hold together disparate parts of meat products to form a larger piece of meat. Some food suppliers, restaurants, and banquet facilities will provide steak, such as filet mignon, that was actually composed of different meat parts glued together by transglutaminase. These types of "reformed" meat can pose several problems. For the below reasons, I respectfully request the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to thoroughly investigate the industry's use of meat glue, the possible dangers posed by meat glue, and how consumers can be warned that they are eating glued meat.

First, if a whole steak was actually composed of different meat parts that were glued together, the center portions of the steak can be contaminated. The outside parts of the meat now become the inside parts of the new steak. If that "reformed" steak is not thoroughly cooked and served rare or medium rare, the inside portions of the steak can still be contaminated and cause sickness to the consumer.

Second, if a steak is composed of different meat parts from different animals and a food illness outbreak occurs, it makes it far more difficult to trace what caused the food illness.

Third, there are stories of transglutaminase causing allergic or other reactions in unwary consumers.

Fourth -- as a matter of honesty and the consumer's right to know -- food suppliers, restaurants, and banquet facilities should not be deceiving the public into thinking they are eating a whole steak if in fact the steak was glued together from various meat parts.

If you have any questions or need additional information, I can be reached at (916) 651-4028. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

TED W. LIEU
State Senator

Statement from Ajinmomoto, the company that sells "meat glue"

"Transglutaminase (TG), is an enzyme that occurs naturally in plants, animals and people. Like all enzymes, it is a protein.

TG is used for different reasons in different products, sometimes to improve texture and sometimes to bind meat cuts together. It is a niche product that is used at very low levels. It has been used globally for almost two decades.

The Food and Drug Administration recognizes TG as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as determined that it is safe for use in meat products. USDA is present in meat plants on a daily basis. Their inspectors ensure that meat is handled safely and is labeled appropriately.

TG and other enzymes are widely used in food production to provide consumers with a wide array of good tasting food choices. Ajinomoto stands, along with regulatory authorities, behind the safety of this ingredient."

Statement from the Amercian Meat Institute

"We think Sen. Ted Lieu's letter is misdirected. It would be better sent to state and local health authorities that have jurisdiction over the entities about which Mr. Lieu is complaining.

USDA regulates and inspects meat plants, not restaurants and foodservice establishments. The Food and Drug Administration has approved transglutaminase as safe and USDA approved its use in meat products so long as it is labeled as an ingredient when used and so long as the product package declares that it is "formed" or "reformed." We vehemently disagree with his allegations about the product's safety and we invite him to provide concrete evidence of the food safety issues to which he refers.

His call for USDA to investigate is also without merit. USDA is present in meat plants every day and is well aware when transglutaminase is used. USDA also ensures that products that contain transgluataminase are properly labeled when they leave the plant.

We also think it is highly inappropriate for the holder of a public office to use a derogatory and misleading term liked 'meat glue' in official letters, especially those that he releases to media. This serves only to alarm and inflame the public."

- Mark Dopp, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel, American Meat Institute

Statement from the USDA

"USDA is committed to food safety and responsible for ensuring products under our jurisdiction are appropriately labeled. We appreciate hearing from those interested in supporting our efforts to ensure meat and poultry is safe, wholesome and accurately labeled."