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I long ago stopped believing that most corporations and politicians had the good of the public in mind. We need independent groups like Food & Water Watch to raise awareness and advocate for ethical, environmentally positive laws.
Elise Zuidema
April 3rd, 2008

New Report Finds Danger Behind Carbon Monoxide Meat

Jen Mueller or Erin Greenfield
(202) 683,2457

New Report Finds Deception and Danger Behind Carbon Monoxide Meat

Food & Water Watch Report Reveals CO-treated Meat Threatens Consumer Safety

Washington, DC — A deceptive and questionable food technology approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is putting consumers health at risk, according to a new report released today by Food & Water Watch. The report entitled Carbon Monoxide : Masking the Truth About Meat? details the use of this toxic gas in meat and fish packaging to create a red color typically associated with freshness — a practice that is considered misleading and unsafe by several consumer groups.

“The FDA rubber stamped a potentially unsafe meat treatment without doing the proper scientific research to back up its decision,” stated Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “If FDA was serious about its goal of protecting Americans health, it would not allow a process that intentionally disguises the quality and safety of meat.”

Whereas meat not treated with carbon monoxide will begin naturally to oxidize and turn brown after approximately 10 to 12 days, meat treated with carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packaging will retain its color and mask spoilage even when improperly stored for weeks at a time. According to the report, the presence of CO can cause fish to accumulate dangerous levels of scombrotoxin or histamine and can mask a wide variety of pathogens in meat including E. Coli and Salmonella.

Despite the potential risks, FDA approved the use of carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packaging as “Generally Recognized as Safe” or GRAS. During this designation process, the public has no opportunity to comment on the safety or health concerns associated with the substances. FDA does not require labeling for any products treated with the gas.

“Sixty three percent of adults believe that the freshness of meat is directly related to the color of the meat. The artificial red color of carbon monoxide-treated meat poses the risk that consumers will eat spoiled meat that looks fresh,” stated Hauter. “Consumers have a right to know what has been done to their food in order to make educated decisions about their purchases and health.”

The European Union banned CO in meat and tuna packaging because of the consumer deception issue, and several U.S. supermarket chains and meat and poultry processors have voluntarily banned CO meat from their shelves and food practices. However, there is no legislation to prevent these companies from reneging on their current policies.

“Leaving it up to companies to decide whether or not to sell carbon monoxide treated meat is an incomplete solution since companies can change their mind at any time,” said Hauter. “In fact we just received a letter from Wal-Mart admitting that their stores are not completely free of meat products that have been treated with CO.”

Food & Water Watch is asking for change at the federal level and urging FDA to reexamine and revoke its approval of the questionable technology.

“At worst, it’s dangerous. At best, it’s a consumer rip-off,” said Hauter at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the use of carbon monoxide. “We need to make sure our government agencies are making consumer safety a top priority in all their decisions.”

View the report Carbon Monoxide: Masking the Truth About Meat?

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.