Score one for the good guys: after sustaining heavy criticism and pressure from a coalition of public interest groups and members of Congress, the retail titan Safeway conceded the public health risk posed by CO-treated meat and removed it from its shelves. As we've noted in the past (and as have many of you in the comments over the last few years), the FDA and Department of Agriculture have allowed large meat packers to inject CO in their meat products since 2004 to give them the appearance of looking fresh (even if they weren't).
Though the CO injections themselves likely don't present a poison risk, this practice poses a public health and, more importantly, consumer fraud hazard by misleading shoppers into thinking the damaged, old meat they are purchasing is still fresh and good to eat. A poll conducted by the Consumer Federation of America revealed that a majority of consumers equated meat color with its freshness. In the same poll, over 75% of consumers deemed the use of CO in meat deceptive and more than two-thirds of them said the meat should be labeled as such.Gassing the meat allows it to hold its color for more than a year while untreated packaged meat usually starts losing its redness after only about 10 - 12 days on the shelf. The FDA's acquiescence of this practice has been a major boost to the meat industry: it has likely saved retailers as much as $1 billion annually in lost sales resulting from consumer aversion to dated, browning meat. Given the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act — which states that a "food shall be deemed to be adulterated — if damage or inferiority has been concealed in any manner; or if any substance has been added thereto or mixed or packed therewith so as to — make it appear better or of greater value than it is" — it seems strange that it would allow this practice to persist.
As with most dubious government agency practices, food safety watchdogs suspect meat industry lobbying is to blame for this lack of action. In addition to filing a request through the Freedom of Information Act to see the agency records, public interest advocates are working with members of Congress, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), to introduce a bill banning CO-treatment of meat. Should this fail, two other congressmen are introducing a bill that would at least force retailers to accurately label CO-gassed meat.
The tide may already be turning, however: several large retailers have already acknowledged the risks posed by CO-treated meat and a handful of others have gone so far as to refuse carrying it. Let's hope keeping up the pressure will "convince" others to follow in their steps.
See also: ::Another Great Reason to Go Veg- They are Gassing the Meat, ::Eat Less Meat, Save Planet, says British Official
Image courtesy of the sun hums via flickr