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    Labels Identifying MAP Meat Imminent at Target

    Consumer alert labels for meat packages pumped with carbon-monoxide treated could be in stores as early as this month.

    After lobbying for government approval, a Target Corp. official last week told a congressional panel that two of its fresh meat suppliers are readying to put a consumer alert label on modified atmosphere meat packages to let consumers know that it's been treated with carbon monoxide to preserve its fresh appearance.

    Target divisional merchandise manager Danielle Lachman was quoted in press reports as saying that the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) had approved language for the new label that Hormel Foods and Cargill Inc.'s joint MAP meat venture, Precept Foods, will shortly begin to use.

    The label, which will reportedly be in use by Target as early as this month, will say: "Color is not an accurate indicator of freshness. Refer to use or freeze by" date.

    The new label follows last fall's appearances of executives from Target, Cargill and Hormel - all based in Minnesota - before the same House subcommittee hearing to address potential deception in labeling. The panel's chairman, Bart Stupak, D-Mich., opposes the MAP packaging method, arguing that it is "highly deceptive" because it keeps meat looking fresh even though it may have spoiled.

    Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill, also confirmed reports of the impending label introduction in press reports. "We are open to working with interested parties in coming up with a label that will satisfy people."

    While the FDA contends the process is safe, the meat industry has vigorously defended the use of MAP meat products, arguing that banning or labeling the technology is unnecessary and unfair because it poses no public health or safety risk.

    The move by Target, which sells packaged meat in some 210 of its 1,537 stores, follows efforts already initiated by several supermarket chains, including Safeway Inc. and Ahold's Giant Food and Stop & Shop units, and Tyson Foods Inc., all of which have stopped selling meat treated with carbon monoxide.

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