Hill Debates 'Carbon Monoxide Meat'

Lawmakers call carbon monoxide coloration of meat 'highly deceiving'

ByABC News
November 13, 2007, 6:43 PM

Nov. 13, 2007 — -- In the latest of a series of hearings on national food safety, Congress today examined a joint decision made by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow meat and fish to be packaged in a modified atmosphere containing carbon monoxide. The practice, which affects the color of meat and fish products to make them look fresh indefinitely, was called "highly deceiving" by some lawmakers who believe it misleads consumers into believing that food is fresher than it really is.

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight Chairman Bart Stupak said the treatment "provides no benefit at all" and "does nothing to preserve the freshness of meat and fish" or "prolong the food's shelf life."

Rep. Stupak, D-Mich., continued, "To put it bluntly, the sole purpose of carbon monoxide packaging is to fool consumers into believing that the meat and fish they buy is fresh no matter how old it is and no matter how decayed it might be."

He noted that the EU, Canada, Singapore and Japan have all banned the use of carbon monoxide in meat packaging, and said "the FDA and USDA have turned a blind eye to this practice.

Stupak and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., introduced legislation to require the labeling of carbon monoxide treated meat. Earlier this year, the two Michigan Democrats wrote letters to Tyson Foods, Safeway, Giant Foods, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. and Target to question sales of carbon monoxide treated meat. Tyson, Safeway, Giant and Stop & Shop have all since discontinued the sale of such meat. Today Target announced it was requesting USDA approval to add a warning to meat packages sold in its stores.

The FDA's David Acheson, who along with other FDA and USDA officials sat at a table covered with various samples of year-old meat that still appears fresh, and said that "this particular issue is not a safety concern even remotely high on our radar screen."

He added that he believes that most people are aware that meat is packaged with carbon monoxide, a claim refuted by Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill.