I Declare Bullshit on the “Mechanically Separated Chicken” Picture

I’m guessing that 75% or more of you have seen this image and the accompanying text, because I have seen it posted to Facebook a dozen times, and it’s now making its way into RSS sharing sites.

This meme is spreading fast, but I don’t really buy its claims.

Here’s one example of the text that often accompanies this picture:

Say hello to mechanically separated chicken. It’s what all fast-food chicken is made from—things like chicken nuggets and patties. Also, the processed frozen chicken in the stores is made from it.

Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve—bones, eyes, guts, and all. it comes out looking like this.

There’s more: because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be reflavored artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?

High five, America!

Variations on this theme have popped up around the web, with FitPerez.com and the Huffington Post alleging that this pink goop is what is in McDonald’s famous McNuggets.

Now — look.

Mechanically separated meat exists, and it is gross, and you should not eat it without being aware that you’re consuming a nasty, unhealthy food product.

That said, I declare bullshit on this picture and the text that purports to explain it.

Why are intelligent people just taking some Tumblr’s word for it that this picture is what they say it is, without a single citation or any kind of backup?

If you actually took the time to look into it, you’d find that the reality is significantly more complex.

Thankfully, Snopes.com has tackled this subject already, and they report:

Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like or batter-like meat product created by forcing unstripped bones under high pressure through a type of sieve to separate edible meat tissue (including tendons and muscle fiber) from the bones.

Contrary to what is claimed above, the process does not involve the grinding up of entire animal carcasses (“bones, eyes, guts, and all”) into one large, amorphous glob of meat; it is a technique for removing what is left on the bones of a carcass after all other processing has been completed.

Also, although meat packing plants typically use anhydrous ammonia for refrigeration purposes, with ammonia leakages having on occasion caused contamination issues at such plants, and sometimes introduce additional ammonium hydroxide into meat as an antibacterial agent, poultry processors do not routinely “soak” MSP in ammonia.

I am not arguing that mechanically separated chicken is a wonder food that you should serve up to your kids.

I’m arguing, on the basis of evidence, that this rapidly-spreading email-and-blog meme is full of lies and utterly misleads the reader.

Take another look at the picture:

Seriously, what is supposed to be going on here?

If this is a meat product, why is it being dispensed into a cardboard box?

Where is this supposedly taking place? Who took this picture and why?

What are the big metal scoops being used for?

Nobody knows!

Unverifiable internet sources who claim chicken-plant experience don’t glamorize what goes on in the horrid world of poultry processing, but they say “the picture isn’t chicken, I don’t know what the fuck that is.”

My unverifiable source is just as good as your unverifiable source!

One thing is for sure, the mechanical processing of meat is a largely automated process (warning, gross video) that does not involve cardboard boxes and comically large metal scoops.

Yes, it produces pink goop. But just because something looks like pink goop doesn’t make it automatically a crime against nature. Most of the meme’s argument is predicated on the supposed production process, and almost everything in that statement is factually false.

Here’s another thing in the meme that I know is a lie. The food product most often tarnished with the pink-goop stigma is McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets — which, in reality, have been made with white meat chicken since 2003, NOT mechanically processed meat.

Mechanically processed meat is used in extremely low-grade chicken patties and nuggets and in hot dogs, but it’s easily avoided because it has to be listed in the ingredients. Even McDonald’s turns up its nose at this stuff! My guess is, you’ve eaten little to no mechanically separated chicken in the last 6 months.

So let’s not freak out and stop eating all chicken nuggets over one stupid, unverifiable picture.

Industrial food scaremongering fail.

Factory-scale poultry processing is a disgusting process, no doubt. Read this article to learn more about the way that chicken breasts make their way into shrink wrapped packages. It’s foul.

Does it come as a surprise to anybody that the contents of hot dogs are pretty appalling? That said, they don’t contain eyes, brains and bones, nor are they “soaked in ammonia.”

Obviously, we should all be striving to eat the freshest and most sustainably-produced foods we can. Highly-processed, chemically fortified fast foods are pretty nasty and we should avoid them whenever possible.

But not because we saw some horseshit picture of pink goop masquerading as a food expose.

Use your brains, friends.

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About Alpine McGregor
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19 Responses to I Declare Bullshit on the “Mechanically Separated Chicken” Picture

  1. Anonymous says:

    How it is a scaremongering fail if it’s spreading like wildfire across the Internet? Scaremongering win!

    • Excellent point. Truth fail, scaremongering win.

  2. beaelliott says:

    “So let’s not freak out and stop eating all chicken nuggets over one stupid, unverifiable picture.”
    No… There are better reasons not to eat chickens:
    This is the fact based, unemotional, industrial processing of chickens:

    http://www.veganpeace.com/animal_cruelty/chicken.htm

    This is personal experience and opinion:

    We don’t “need” to eat these innocent beings at all… Pink “goo” or not.
    Please consider plant based alternatives and vegan choices.

    • BrassMonkey says:

      If mother nature did not intend for me to enjoy eating “innocent creatures” like chickens, would you PETA / Vegan folks kindly explain this set of incisors I’m walking around with? Are they normal? You’re making me self-conscious.

      Are meat processing plants ugly? Of course they are – they deal in flesh and blood. But other high-order predators kill and eat lesser animals with far more cruelty- are wolves and lions inherently evil as well? Are we to be singled out for our efficiency? Finally, have you considered the morality of bacteria? They are truly a scourge.

      Here is a suggestion: why don’t you invest your energy in something productive, like helping your fellow human beings instead of chickens and cows.

      • Chris says:

        Dear Brass Monkey, Well, just because you have a hammer dont mean you gotta whack everything you see with it. If animals do not have to endure pain and suffering it is a good thing to make it so that they dont. A lot of people eat meat. But it does not have to be that way. By the by, helping animals is actually helping the planet as the meat industry is the biggest malevolent thug from everything climate to resistant viruses to enviroment regarding chemicals.

      • Frida says:

        So presumably you shun cutlery too and prefer to rip your food apart with your fingernails- following your ‘incisor’ argument that would be the most appropriate use of the talons you’re walking around with?

  3. beaelliott says:

    BrassMonkey – Seems like mother nature also chose to make the male sex of every other animal the most colorful, elaborate and flamboyant in physical attractiveness… I gather you don’t wear hot pink or paint your nails though… Hummm… You’re very selective on what you wish to preserve as “natural” or not.

    Anyway, regarding the cuspids and our digestive tract AND our predatory skills: The Comparative Anatomy of Eating by Dr. Milton Mills might answer all those issues and more:

    And as an aside… You’re not really suggesting to base our ethics on our dentures – Now are you?

    “are wolves and lions inherently evil?” Well no. They have no choice but to consume what will sustain them. They don’t have the option of the thousand other choices man does. Nonhumans are also not moral agents… Even if lions, bears and gators could survive on a plant based diet, they don’t have the responsibilities of ethics because they have no “free will”. We do.

    Anyway, suppose a tiger could go into a grocery store and opt for a veggie selection – But instead chose the food that required bloodshed. We’d call him heartless and dangerous! Why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standard?

    Finally, regarding what volunteer work I do (or don’t do) with human interests as a goal. What in the world makes you think I don’t contribute time and energy into Guardian Ad Litem, Big Sisters and reading to the elderly in my own community? That’s pretty presumptious of you. And even so, IF I chose to hold animal concerns as a main point of effort it would be so because they are the most helpless and most forgotten victims of all. Being the speciesist breed that we are, champions for the “lowly beasts” are far and few. Most people (like yourself) like animals just to “use”.

    So, what is it YOU do to help others? Any “Others”???

    • Anonymous says:

      beaelliott – You speak of freedom of choice. Isn’t it a freedom of choice to eat meat? Would you say that man is the dominant being on the planet and atop the food chain. If other animals can eat each other, why is it wrong for the top animal to eat other animals.

      I have to say, your arguments don’t really have any bite. First of all, how does the natural flamboyantness of other male creatures disprove the fact that humans are naturally able to eat meat. Those are two different aspects of nature that have little or no affect on each other.

      Humans are omnivorous and it’s not just our incisors that make that possible; our entire alimentary canal is geared towards the consumption of both animal and plant matter. There’s a reason why we’ve always and still continue comsumed meat.

      I can honestly say that don’t buy Dr. Milton Mills theory that humans are committed herbivores. I’ve always heard scientist say the opposite of what he’s saying. So in this case, you can bring your expert to say one point, and with a little research, I’m sure I would find experts with the opposing view.

      Besides, the reality of tens of thousands of years of meat eating carries tremendous weight. And I don’t see how that can all be dismissed as simply learned behaviour. Unless someone wants to prove their own point of view.

      A quick Google search and I found lots of arguments on both sides of the issue. What Dr. Mills doesn’t talk about is the fact that humans also have problems digesting plant matter. And I know that Vegans have to take certain steps to ensure they are getting all the nutrition they need. So if you follow the logic of your arguments then humans shouldn’t be eating vegggies either?

      Dr. Mills makes reference that primates, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, use their incisors for display and defence. Someone should tell him that meat eating by primates has been filmed and well documented. It sound like his study has a particular point of view to support.

      I find your analogy of the tiger going into a grocerie store quite funny. I strongly suspect that statement describes your views of people who eat meat. You simply used the word ‘tiger’ instead of saying a man or a woman. But once again that statement doesn’t prove any point.

      If you don’t want to eat meat that’s your choice. But don’t condem people who chose to eat meat because you need a cause to fight for. There are lots of bad thing people do in this world and eating meat is one of the least of these.

  4. Bea Elliott says:

    Yes, “freedom of choice” is a wonderful thing. But when that freedom involves the harm of an innocent second party… It deserves some very close inspection.

    All “chains” can be broken – And this particular one absolutely should be…

    Other animals eat each other because they are not moral agents. They do not have the understanding that life “belongs” to others. Man does know this – He is the “rational” and “compassionate” species… Therefore he has an obligation to live as such.

    “Humans are omnivorous”… incisors/digestive tract, etc. Of course man can eat meat – But we also do very well without. Take Okinowa for instance. They have the longest life span in the world… They also consume a tiny fraction of the “meat” that the U.S. does. I am not arguing that we can’t eat meat… I’m arguing that we don’t NEED to. And more evidence is surfacing everyday that this is so. Just flesh related food born illnesses alone are close to a million a year… Compound that with other diseases and it becomes obvious which are the “safer” foods.

    Sorry you don’t agree with Milton Mill’s 58 reasons why we are more closely related to herbivores… But it is science based information.

    “Vegans have to take certain steps to ensure they are getting all the nutrition they need”. Ummm… The exact same thing can be said for an omnivorous diet – I know. I lived one for 45+ years… The “certain steps” you speak of just mean to consume a variety of colorful “living” food. Last I checked “pork, chicken and beef” looked pretty grey or brown to me… Except the artificial color used to keep the flesh looking “fresh”.

    Yes, primates do eat incidental bugs, grubs and other insects… Studies by Jane Goodall reveal that this makes up 1 – 3% of their diet…Primates eat these not for sustainance however, but mostly out of boredom or curiosity. My dog has a habit of eating rocks and pebbles… Doesn’t mean he’s doing so as “food”.

    Glad you like the analogy of the tiger in the grocery store… It really was meant to illustrate a point – not to amuse. It wasn’t intended to be funny – it was meant to be thought provoking. But I’ve found people will often ridicule what they can’t or won’t understand.

    Finally, “If you don’t want to eat meat that’s your choice. But don’t condem people who chose to eat meat because you need a cause to fight for. There are lots of bad thing people do in this world and eating meat is one of the least of these.”

    Again, you’re right that eating meat is a “choice”… But when choices require innocent victims, others have a say in speaking for them. There is a matter of fairness that warrants the need for champions and advocates. I “need” to be such a voice because I believe it is the right thing to do… To protect the helpless against irrational and UNNECESSARY harm. BTW though, I also speak against the “bad things” people do that involve harm to children, minorities, the elderly, etc. It is simply being consistent with matters of justice. And having empathy. I would want someone able to “fight” for me… And so I should do the same and “fight” for them.

    • Laura says:

      I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t have anything at all against vegetarians, either. It is, indeed, a choice. Yes, there are lots of terrible things done to animals & it is worth getting upset over; however, not ALL animals that are meant to be consumed have gone through “irrational and UNNECESSARY harm.” It is possible to eat local & know that the animals you consume aren’t treated poorly so before you assume all meat-eaters are creating “innocent victims,” ask them where they got their food.

      Secondly, your statement “it becomes obvious which are the ‘safer’ foods,” is a bit of a generalization. You can catch food born illnesses from any food. I should know, my father died of E-coli food poisoning, a bacteria often spread through lettuce & spinach.

      I do applaud you for standing up for what you believe is right. Just be careful before you point fingers.

  5. Secret M says:

    Missed this post last month. One gripe. I bet someone’s kids have been eating those low grade nuggets at school last week, no amount of consumer consciousness at the supermarket can detect that.

    • Thanks for the comment, dude. That might be true, but if you’re concerned about your kids eating mechanically processed meat — which is not nearly as hazardous as the original post would have you believe — then pack a lunch for them.

      We grew up eating the old school McNuggets, which definitely included some funky stuff. Today, other than some beer weight, we’re in perfectly good health. MSM isn’t a life-threatening poison (unless consumed in massive quantities over time), it’s just nasty.

  6. wergfewfew says:

    Using the BS is overused.

  7. DBDBDB says:

    Well, obviously this picture is not BS. Check the news article:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/04/mechanically-separated-meat-chicken-mcnugget-photo_n_749893.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

    • That article walks back most of its claims in updates, then nonsensically argues “there is little reason to doubt” the photo is mechanically separated meat — but other than being pink, the substance in the original photo looks nothing like MSM in consistency and context.

      The burden is on the supposedly-journalistic publication (in this case the HuffPo) to fact-check the material they lazily sourced from some Tumblr, original source totally unknown, rather than punting by saying “this looks kinda like that, so there.” But feel free to believe anything you read on a random blog and boycott McDonalds for no good reason.

  8. tom jones says:

    its mcdonalds pink slime that is being, admittedly by mcdonalds,
    to be removed from being mixed with their hamburger meat.
    it was in associated press with the article. do your research.
    and eat some, it looks good dont it….
    zombies love to be fooled.
    go watch jamie olivers food revolution before spouting

  9. hunnewelllisa@yahoo.com says:

    Okay. So what on what machanically sperated meat looks like. Its still weird because last i checked chicken doesnt look like a sponge when you bite in to it.. or what about this one.. To me chicken nuggets and pattys look like pressed wood.. get it?

  10. Test tube burger says:

    Lab-grown burger:

    http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23576143

    The future?

  11. joshua says:

    all i can say is that both arguments deserve consideration but many peoples bodies do not function without some of the basic nutrients that come from meat however you cannot just say meat is the greatest thing since fire we as humans bridge a gap that other animals cant even primates share that with us we just go farther with it i personaly think that we as humans should not just say im vegan im carnivore we were given an inteligence and the tools of our natural bodies to eat and enjoy both spectrums hell there are some spices and flavors we could not enjoy without meat but without vegans we would not have mushroom burgers or soy meat products. we as people should join together to stop the cruelty in the slaughter houses in not just the animal endulgence but in how we treat our fello human being we beat and mame slaughter each other the same way we do to animals and animals do to themselves. Are we realy the onese chosen to hold the mantle of responsibility for our selves and animals at the moment i dont think so but we can come back we all have te ability to patch up our fellow human and fight against injustice to all as we should we shoulder the fate of all man and animal kind and we have petty squables over who one chooses to share there life with. at this i shake my head and stand and ask you are we realy this petty and ignorant to fight over choice of vegan not non vegan or can we join to fight the real issues that face our fello men and women

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