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'Meat glue' scandal: California lawmaker urges USDA to investigate

May 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A California lawmaker has taken notice to the furor over "meat glue" and he's calling for action.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the use of meat glue and its possible dangers. The white powder known as transglutaminase is used to rebuild steaks out of pieces of meat that would normally be discarded.

Filet mignon is the most frequently glued meat. Some food suppliers provide glued filets when meals are served in bulk at restaurants and banquets. The practice has largely gone under the radar.

"It is clear to me that meat glue can cause harm to consumers," Lieu said.

In a statement to ABC7 Eyewitness News, the federal agency said, "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."

The government says meat processed with transglutaminase is safe to eat. But here's what you need to know: the outside of a piece of meat comes in contact with a lot of bacteria. Cooking will usually kill that, but when pieces of meat are glued together, bacteria like E. coli could still be on the inside.

"They actually currently have some regulations on meat glue, I just don't think they're strong enough," Lieu said. "They should look at not just whether the meat glue itself is harmful, but the entire process of when you combine meats together."

Transglutaminase is made with enzymes harvested from fermented bacteria. The manufacturer, Ajinomoto Co., says: "TG (transglutaminase) 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."

After being cooked, transglutaminase becomes invisible, so most consumers would not spot glued meat.

Dr. Betsy Booren, the director of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute, said it's up to consumers to ask when being served.

"They may not see the label, but what they ought to do if they have concerns, and we understand that consumers, they want to understand where their food is coming from, they should ask their wait staff," Booren said.

Lieu said the issue is also about being transparent in letting consumers know they are eating meat that has been glued together.


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