April 3, 2006

Democrats seek carbon monoxide meat packing ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Democratic members of
Congress called on the U.S. health secretary to immediately ban
the use of carbon monoxide to preserve the bright red color of
fresh meat until the practice is proven safe, according to a
letter made public on Monday.

The members of the House of Representatives urged Health
and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to order the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration to repeal its earlier decision
that the practice is generally safe.

Leavitt should at least order an aggressive nationwide
campaign to inform consumers about the practice and caution
them against relying on color rather than a sell-by date when
buying meat, the members wrote in a letter.

"Whatever incentive existed to assure adequate
refrigeration of meat because of the fear of economic loss
associated with 'browning' was diminished by the FDA decision.
Now that the consequences of poor handling of meat will not be
obvious, such mishandling can be expected to increase," the
members wrote.

Democratic Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak of Michigan,
Henry Waxman of California, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts
signed the letter, dated March 30.

A spokeswoman for the secretary could not be immediately
reached for comment.

The U.S. Congress members called for a full public review
process to determine whether using the gas in meat and fish is
safe. Use-by dates on meat packages are often too small for
most people to read and are sometime deliberately illegible,
they wrote.

The letter comes as part of an ongoing challenge to
so-called modified atmosphere packaging in which meat packers
squirt the gas into sealed packages. Kalsec Inc., a maker of
spice, herb and vegetable extracts, filed a complaint against
the practice in November 2005.

Last month, FDA's Director of the Office of Food Additive
Safety Laura Tarantino said the practice did not mislead
consumers. She could not say when they FDA would rule on
Kalsec's petition.

In their letter released on Monday, the lawmakers
criticized the FDA for failing to respond to a February 9
letter from Dingell and Stupak outlining their concerns. Agency
statements made publicly since then have been "helpful to the
meat industry but not helpful to consumers," they said.

An FDA spokeswoman could not immediately be reached.

U.S. meat industry groups have said the concern is not over
safety but rather a squabble between business competitors.
Consumer advocates have called the practice misleading.