/ Food & Drink

Would you eat mechanically separated meat?

If you eat burgers, meatballs, sausages or chicken nuggets then it’s likely that you already have. There are strict rules on mechanically separated meat, and they’re about to get even tougher.

After meat is removed from a chicken there’s often a fair amount of meat left on the carcass. To minimise waste this is mechanically removed so that it can be used in other foods.

There are two types of mechanically separated meat: high pressure, which looks like a paste and can be found in products such as hotdogs; and low-pressure desinewed meat, which looks like mince meat.

The former high-pressure method is when the carcass is squeezed through a machine like a sieve, whereas the low-pressure method is when the carcass is put in a sort of tumble drier to ‘spin’ the meat from the bones.

Greater restrictions on desinewed meat

Desinewed meat has been produced in the UK since the mid-90s from poultry and livestock and has not been labelled separately from the ‘meat’ content on food product, whereas the high pressure mechanically separated meat has.

Due to the BSE crisis, high pressure mechanically separated meat cannot be made from beef or lamb bones. And just last month the European Commission (EC) enforced a suspension on desinewed meat produced from ruminant bones (that is, cattle, sheep and goats).

The Food Standards Agency has said that the UK will have to comply, otherwise a ban on the export of UK meat could be imposed. However, the meat industry has suggested that this would result in an increase in the price of meat products (like your burgers).

Under the EC ruling, desinewed meat can still be produced from poultry and pigs, but must now be labelled as mechanically separated meat, meaning it won’t be able to count towards the meat content of the product.

Tell me what meat I’m eating

Personally, I wouldn’t buy something that contained high pressure mechanically separated meat, and I think desinewed meat should have been labelled on products from the start.

If I buy meatballs I’d like to know where the meat has come from, otherwise when I see ‘80% meat’ I’m going to assume it comes from decent cuts. If that’s made up of desinewed meat without me knowing I could be paying an inflated price for meatballs that I might have thought were value for money

Our research last year suggests that many people feel the same. In our focus groups, most people understood that there was a spectrum of quality in meat products and that, dependent on the type of meat, they would get what they paid for. And although many wanted desinewed meat to be labelled on their products, many still felt it should count towards the meat content.

In short, the people in our focus group wanted increased clarity about the type of meat in their products, but they didn’t want the definition of the product or the price to change.

So what do you think about the ban on desinewed meat from cows, sheep and goats? Do you think it’s as bad as high pressure mechanically separated meat? And are you fussed about it being in your food products?

Would you eat mechanically separated meat?

No - not if I can help it (74%, 261 Votes)

Yes - I don't see anything wrong with it (17%, 61 Votes)

Maybe - only if it's the low-pressure desinewed meat (9%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 354

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This is one of the reasons I avoid buying sausages and burgers. Cooked ham and some chicken kievs are made from mechanically separated meat.

I prefer the terms mechanically recovered meat or mechanically reclaimed meat, which sound more disgusting. Shefalee has spared us the details but if you would like to become a vegetarian, they are worth looking up..

Recovering meat in this way avoids a lot of waste, making ‘meat’ more affordable and decreases the number of animals that we kill for food.

I prefer to eat good quality unprocessed meat and I don’t feel the need to eat it every day.

jacob says:
5 December 2017

of course the vegans hop on here

I don’t mind either way – If it is cheaper then I’ll eat it – At the rate my income is decreasing under the present government mismanagement – I’ll soon be lucky if I could afford ANY meat in a week. So the choice will soon be recovered meat or no meat at all.

No thanks. In the good old days these were the ingredients of a good meat stock or soup. The joint/chicken got served on Sunday, cold on Monday and then the stock pot converted everything else. Nothing wasted. I have a stock pot, which I use. Of course, these days, It’s easy to buy tins, frozen and ready prepared products. It’s not so easy to spend time on every purchase checking the small print – and it is small and sometimes inaccessible. So, I’ll probably eat the processed meat without knowing. C’est la vie.

par ailleurs says:
28 April 2012

I’m sure this stuff is probably harmless but deeply unpleasant. My personal philosophy, like others here, is to use every bit possible from good quality meat. One organic, free-range chicken has loads more meat on it for a start. Then it will roast, leave cold cuts or left over dishes, a (very!) small treat for the cat and contribute to a gallon of excellent home made soup. As far as I’m concerned that represents better value than some scrotty ‘chicken’ kiev or reconstituted meat pie or similar.

N Sykes says:
30 April 2012

What a totally misleading article you have written . You know absolutely nothing about how this process works . In a world where meat protein is in short supply it is immoral not to use every last scrap of an animal that has been reared for food . Yes you and Jamie Oliver have the money to choose what food to put on your plate, however please remember the thousands who don’t and have to live on a tight budget. UK animal welfare and food production is strictly controlled to ensure food safety, would you rather this process take place here or operate unregulated by our European counterparts.

Hello N Sykes, this is a Conversation starter with the author’s personal preference of whether they’d eat mechanically separated meat – Shefalee concludes that she’d eat the low-pressure type, but not the high pressure. In both cases she’d just like to know it’s there through labelling The debate is then left open for you to comment on.

We’ve also seen MSM made in person, and did our own research to see what people thought about it. Thanks.

craig gardiner says:
7 May 2012

i agree 100 per cent with n sykes on this matter not only is it safe its its cheap for working class people like my sell the last thing i want is to pay more for meat products to feed my family theres no evidence this is unsafe to eat what so ever not only that im now working my 30 days notice at work due to some idiots in europe who have enforced this ban thousands of jobs will be lost across the country due to this ………….

I certainly don’t mind eating this type of meat – it’s good to avoid waste, it’s cheaper and ultimately (and embarassingly) I’m quite lazy when it comes to cooking, so probably end up eating a lot of it in things like processed foods.

However, I can see the case for letting people know – I’ve met many people who really care about the types of meat they buy, and I think Shefalee’s meatballs example shows that many could be expecting something better when they’re actually being fed the ‘waste’ meat. I wouldn’t look for the ‘mechanically separated meat’ label, but I know plenty of people who would!

I would be surprised if you see ‘mechanically separated meat’ listed as such, Nikki. Ham that is stuck together from bits and pieces (I don’t know whether or not this contains any mechanically separated meat) is often labelled in an enticing way, such as “Formed from prime cuts of finest Wiltshire ham”.

Andrew says:
8 September 2015

Guess you havent tried canned Vienna sausages. They are labeled as mechanically seperated but I see what youre saying most mechanically seperated meat probably isnt labeled this way.

Kevin McWhinney says:
30 April 2012

Hi Nikki, I’m a meat manufacturer (McWhinney’s Sausages) and have never used DSM/MRM or any such material in my products. The reason is that I know all too well what it is and the thought of eating it makes me gag! I wouldn’t eat it so I certainly wouldn’t expect my customers to. Trust me, DSM is not meat and although it carries no health risks, it is a horrible product. You’re totally free to make your own mind up on it, I am totally for that. My point is that if a product doesn’t declare it contains DSM in the ingredients list, consumers are being led to believe that they’re eating real meat when actually they are not. In something as important as food and products we are putting into our bodies, you’d think there would be tighter laws on this long ago.

N Sykes says:
30 April 2012

Kevin mc whinney , nice to see that your Michael mc whinney is the head of new product development for Dunbia , one of the biggest producers of DSM. Lovely ideology that you have about using whole cuts of pork for your sausages, but do you have to feed a family of four for around £2.50 a night?

[This comment has been edited for potential defamatory statements. Thanks, mods.]

Believe thin slices of ham and other meats sold in packets are
MRM sold less expensively; there are genuine ‘unadulterated’ cured
meats in similar packaging but a very much higher charge is made
for that, on a multiple of 2.4, 3 or even 4.

I wd assume beefburgers that specified 99% beef is made from
MRM and/or anything else from the animal.

A large blob of white meat sold in cured/processed meats service counter in
Waitrose was labelled Reformed Chicken Meat as if we do not already know,
but other supermarkets I’ve come across have never ever done that.

Personally eat very little or no cured/processed meats at all leaving
aside the question of presence of undesirable nitrites and nitrates if
nothing else.

Kevin McWhinney says:
30 April 2012

In response to N Sykes…just to put the record straight, Michael McWhinney is my second cousin’s son. He is absolutely nothing to do with McWhinney’s Sausages and never has been. McWhinney’s Sausages is a trademarked name and I am the only person that makes them. There are hundreds of McWhinney’s, but just because people share a surname doesn’t make them connected. Hope this removes any trace of doubt.

Phil says:
1 May 2012

As the OP already says we probably already are eating MRM. Frankly I haven’t got a problem with anything that reduces waste, I haven’t been able to find any national figures but looking at how much abbatoir waste some of these bio-digesters are taking (50,000 tonnes a year in one case) I get the impression too much is being thrown away.

Now, I must admit I play ignorance with such meats., I do love an occasional chicken nugget, sausage or Kiev. I’ll eat it as long as I don’t know where it’s come from.

Robint says:
16 May 2012

Hi Guys

My pal is a retired butcher and he first told me about “MRM” as its known in the trade and if consumers saw the brown sludgy product and how it was made they might not be so keen on products using this additive. I dont want to debate the ethical issue here but what I particularly object to is that the Industry deliberately hides the true content. MRM can legitimately (by the EU) be called meat on labels. So your sausage could say 60% meat etc and would likely be 50% MRM.

Personally I avoid any kind of processed meat product, sausages, nuggets, salamis, pies etc.

As a student I works in the Walls Meat pie factory in Southall needless to say ………….

Consumers have the right to know what they are eating – especially for kids food.

hilary sheppard says:
18 May 2012

I have read recently that GM is coming into the country, so try and read up what foods are at risk from contamination, feel its getting really scarey what we may be eating

GM food has attracted little comment on Which? Conversation. Here are links to a couple of relevant topics:



There is a definite need for labelling but I don’t really trust the food industry to be any more honest than they are about mechanically recovered meat.

J HAWLEY says:
19 July 2012

I will not eat any product that is not normaly sourced. Ie. Sausages, pork pies, burgers, etc. In doing so my overall diet has been seriously curtailed.

Loop Withers says:
10 February 2013

I don’t understand. Why are some people – no matter how rich or poor – wanting to eat low quality Mechanically Separated Meat and turn high quality horse meat into pet food?

Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t we feed higher quality food to our children than we do to our pets?

Spytron says:
2 September 2014

I know this topic is old but interesting to read.
As an ex farmer for 20 yrs we have know too well that the middle man. The supermarkets grab the most profit and the farmers and consumers may suffer in the end.
I would just say eat what you want with in reason but excersice regular and keep and eye on fat content in general. Bring back the old times when you grew your own veg and meat like chickens and shared things.