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WASHINGTON -- On the heels of a high-profile congressional hearing on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) role with the nation's food supply, two members of Congress introduced legislation that would require that meat treated with carbon monoxide (CO) be labeled as such.
The bill, the 'Carbon Monoxide Treated Meat Safe Handling, Labeling, and Consumer Protection Act,' would require that fresh meat, seafood and poultry that has been packaged with carbon monoxide be labeled to inform consumers that the meat has been treated with CO, and also that consumers should not regard the color of packaged meat as an indicator of freshness.
“Blasting seafood, poultry, and meat with carbon monoxide can make meat that has spoiled appear to be fresh, red, and wholesome when, in reality it has spoiled,” said Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), a co-sponsor of the bill. “This practice of disguising meat's freshness exposes consumers to serious health hazards and food borne illnesses.”
Carbon monoxide gas is a substance that enhances the "bloom" of fresh meat product that has been packaged.
Alleging that “carbon monoxide is solely used to mislead consumers,” the bill’s other author, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said: “The meat looks fresh and there is no notice on the package that tells consumers they shouldn't trust their eyes.
“While the European Union has banned the use of carbon monoxide because of its potential to 'mask the visual evidence of spoilage,' the FDA made a contrary decision last year without any formal evaluation, solicitation of public comments or independent investigation of the risks associated with the practice. Our legislation provides the necessary warning so consumers can make healthy choices,” Markey said.
Stupak, who chairs the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said that his recent hearing into the FDA's capacity to protect the nation's food supply had helped demonstrate the danger of treating meat with carbon monoxide.
Stupak said subcommittee investigators discovered large numbers of seafood imported from China and Vietnam, “arriving in airtight packages containing carbon monoxide. When tested, fully 20 percent had to be refused because of contamination or decomposition. In other words, this was rotten seafood made to look fresh with the use of carbon monoxide.”
Stupak commended Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Inc., which said last week it would no longer stock meat packaged in carbon monoxide gas.
In a letter to the lawmakers, Safeway s.v.p. Michael McGinnis said that while the retailer believes the packaged-meat format is safe as it contains only trace amounts of CO, it was pulling the CO-treated meat from its departments in view of "concerns with customers who do not have the benefit of the background on this process and may be confused."
Safeway indicated that only a "limited selection" of its meats are packaged in CO, and that it had pulled all such product was pulled from shelves Tuesday, save for lamb and veal, which it will pull from shelves on July 27.
Last year, Stupak repeatedly urged the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind their ruling that treating meat with carbon monoxide is “generally regarded as safe.”