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The UK Food Standards Agency has published its report into the uses of mechanically recovered meat (MRM) from cattle between 1980 and 1995.

The report was commissioned by the FSA at the request of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) to discover how Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) may have got into food in the UK up to 1995. The SEAC, which comprises a group of independent experts, was set up to advise the UK government on BSE and variant Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease (vCJD).

Beef MRM was banned in 1995 when it was found that it may have contained traces of spinal cord which can have a high level of BSE infectivity. Before it was banned, it is estimated that around 5000 tonnes of beef MRM was being used annually. It is hard to realise an exact figure because record keeping was not mandatory then and the FSA has had to rely to a certain extent on people’s memories.

The beef MRM was mostly used in catering and retail economy foods such as burgers, frozen and dried mince, but not in burgers from major fastfood outlets. It is thought that 40% of beef MRM went into burgers and 40% into frozen mince (used in some institutions such as hospitals and schools) while the remainder was exported or went into minor uses.

It is hoped that the findings may help the SEAC determine exactly how much of the population has been exposed to BSE infected meat, and the extent of the health risk to those exposed. It is still not clear what amount of BSE infected meat would constitute an infective dose, nor is it clear what affects susceptibility to vCJD.