FSIS Logo Food Safety and Inspection Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700


March 1997

FSIS Releases Survey of Advanced Meat Recovery Systems

On February 21, 1997, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced initial results of a survey it conducted from mid August to late September 1996 to gather data about the performance of Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR) systems. Based on laboratory data that showed that spinal cord was present in a small percentage of samples from AMR systems, the Agency announced the preparation of a directive to define inspection tasks to help ensure that spinal cord does not appear in products produced with AMR systems. The Agency also determined that data showing the presence of bone marrow and damage to bones emerging from the AMR process would require further analysis to determine if regulatory changes are necessary to address the presence of bone marrow in the AMR-derived product and the condition of bones exiting the AMR process.


On March 3, 1994, FSIS proposed to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to allow meat produced by advanced meat and bone separation machinery, commonly called Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR) systems, to be labeled as "meat." The final regulation was published December 6, 1994 and became effective January 5, 1995. At that time, FSIS had determined that:

--At least a one-pound sample must be collected from each production lot and analyzed for calcium. A lot is one continuous shift for up to 12 hours of production.

--If a sample has more than 0.18 percent or 180 milligrams (mg) of calcium, 3 additional samples from that lot must be analyzed. Sample results must show that the "meat" contains 0.15 percent calcium or less.

--If samples taken by FSIS are above the calcium limits established by FSIS, 3 samples must be taken from each lot until 5 consecutive production lots have results less than or equal to 0.15 percent.

FSIS Response to Consumer Concerns

In the fall of 1995, consumer groups alleged the criteria were not being followed for calcium content and condition of bones exiting the system. In response, FSIS in September 1996 issued a directive to inspectors to help ensure compliance with the regulation. The agency also conducted a review of establishments with AMR systems. In mid-1996, groups voiced new concerns that spinal cords and central nervous system tissue were being included with the AMR processed product. They also repeated concerns about bone marrow being included in the product.

On November 8, 1996, FSIS published a notice in the Federal Register asking for public comment and any available information on the AMR system product as compared to "meat" and announced its survey to compare product derived from AMR systems with hand deboned product. The agency received 34 comments at the close of the comment period on January 7, 1997.

FSIS Study of AMR Systems

The goals of the FSIS survey in 1996 were to gather data, to evaluate the effect of desinewing equipment on the AMR product, and to compare product characteristics of hand deboned product with AMR machine deboned product derived from beef neck bones. In addition, data was obtained on histological characteristics of the product in order to ascertain if any and what tissues had been incorporated into the product as the result of processing. Chemical analyses were performed at the chemistry laboratories of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and FSIS, while histological analyses were performed at the FSIS Eastern Laboratory in Athens, Ga.

Since the main concern with AMR systems centered around bone and bone material being expressed into the meat obtained from beef neck bones, the survey was limited to establishments that use beef neck bones in their AMR processes. Beef neck bones were selected because the vertebra are split, thus exposing tissue and forming bone dust. Samples were taken for histological and chemical analysis from meat derived from neck bones as normally processed within each randomly selected establishment using AMR systems. Samples selected in hand deboning establishments were taken from only neck bones, because this type of bone is generally the major component used in AMR systems operations surveyed.

For chemical analysis, samples were taken from seven AMR system establishments and from two hand deboning establishments (for comparative purposes). For histological analysis, samples were collected from seven AMR system establishments and four different hand deboning establishments (for comparative purposes). On February 5, 1997, the FSIS Eastern Laboratory in Athens completed compilation of data collected from the survey of a total of about 1,200 slides from about 300 samples.


On February 21, 1997, FSIS announced the following preliminary findings of the study at briefings for consumer groups, industry and the media:

FSIS concluded that the samples of AMR product containing spinal cord did not meet the Agency's traditional expectation for meat.


FSIS is evaluating data from the study and is addressing issues raised by these results as follows:

Some consumer and industry representatives have raised concerns about the potential risk to human health from the consumption of bovine spinal cord due to the possible link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeld-Jakob (vCJD) disease in humans. To address this and other concerns, FSIS convened a group of experts to determine the human risk of BSE from current meat processing practices. Government scientists and public health experts agreed there is no evidence of BSE or vCJD in humans in this country. However, the presence of spinal cord in meat is not expected and cannot be allowed in product produced through AMR systems.

For More Information:


For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-3897
Fax: (202) 720-5704

Backgrounders Menu | FSIS Home Page | USDA Home Page