Congressman Smokes Out Truth Of CO2 Meat Treatment

WASHINGTON, DC – Consumers think it is deceptive, and several supermarket stores have taken it off the shelves, yet the US Food and Drug Administration has failed to withdraw approval for carbon monoxide-treated meat.
calendar icon 26 July 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

Members of Congress have now stepped up efforts to address the problem.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) recently introduced legislation that would require labeling of carbon monoxide-treated meat. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-CT), who introduced a bill banning the use of CO in fresh meat packaging in the last Congress, is a co-sponsor.

"Blasting meat with carbon monoxide makes spoiled meat appear to be red, wholesome and healthy when it's really dangerous to eat," said Congressman Stupak. "Although it is well-known that consumers rely heavily on color to evaluate the freshness of meat, the FDA has not required the use of carbon monoxide in the packaging of meat to be labeled. Consumers, therefore, have no way of knowing that the meat has been treated, and that they can no longer rely on color to judge the freshness and safety of the meat."

“It’s crazy that Congress has to get involved when the FDA and USDA each have the authority and more than enough information necessary to put a stop to this practice now,”

Rep. Bart Stupak

A September 2006 Consumer Federation of America poll revealed that 78 percent of consumers felt that the practice of treating red meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and 68 percent would support mandatory labeling. The regulation of fresh packaged meat is handled by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both of which allowed the process in 2004.

“Congress seems to be as frustrated as we are about FDA’s continued silence on the matter,” said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch. “It’s crazy that Congress has to get involved when the FDA and USDA each have the authority and more than enough information necessary to put a stop to this practice now,” added Hauter

The Safeway supermarket chain recently announced that it will no longer carry carbon monoxide-treated beef or veal in its stores. This action is in response to a June letter to the chain from Reps. Stupak and John Dingell (D-MI). Safeway said it would exhaust existing inventories by July 27th. The national supermarket chain joins a long list of supermarkets that have declared they will not carry CO-treated meat. In 2006, several supermarket chains indicated they thought the practice deceives consumers.

This is not the first Congressional attempt to address CO-treated meat. The Senate version of the Prescription Drug User Fee Amendments includes a provision championed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) requiring that the FDA issue a report on the question of whether “substances used to preserve the appearance of fresh meat may create any health risks, or mislead consumers.” The bill is currently in conference.

By creating a red color typically associated with freshness, carbon monoxide makes meat appear fresher than it is and could encourage consumers to purchase spoiled meat. In July 2006, Consumer Reports found unacceptable levels of spoilage organisms have been detected in certain carbon monoxide-treated meat samples prior to the use- or freeze-by date.

“The evidence is overwhelming: treating meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and potentially unsafe,” said Hauter. “There’s no reason why this practice shouldn’t be immediately stopped.”

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