WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2007 (ENS) – A majority of consumers think treating meat with carbon monoxide to make it look fresh is deceptive and several supermarkets have taken it off the shelves, yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, has failed to withdraw approval of the practice.

As a result, Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, has introduced legislation that would require labeling of carbon monoxide treated meat.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, who introduced a bill banning the use of carbon monoxide in fresh meat packaging in the last Congress, is a co-sponsor.

“Blasting meat with carbon monoxide makes spoiled meat appear to be red, wholesome and healthy when it’s really dangerous to eat,” said Stupak.

“Although it is well-known that consumers rely heavily on color to evaluate the freshness of meat, the FDA has not required the use of carbon monoxide in the packaging of meat to be labeled,” he said. “Consumers, therefore, have no way of knowing that the meat has been treated, and that they can no longer rely on color to judge the freshness and safety of the meat.”

A September 2006 Consumer Federation of America poll revealed that 78 percent of consumers felt that the practice of treating red meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and 68 percent would support mandatory labeling.

In July 2006, Consumer Reports found unacceptable levels of spoilage organisms in meat samples treated with carbon monoxide even before the use-by or freeze-by date.

The regulation of fresh packaged meat is handled by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both of which allowed the process in 2004.

“Congress seems to be as frustrated as we are about FDA’s continued silence on the matter,” said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch. “It’s crazy that Congress has to get involved when the FDA and USDA each have the authority and more than enough information necessary to put a stop to this practice now.”

The FDA considers carbon monoxide treatment of meat to be “Generally Recognized as Safe” and says the treatment helps to maintain the characteristic color of fresh meat. The carbon monoxide is not intended to affect microbial growth and will not extend the shelf life of the product, the agency says.

The Safeway chain has announced that it will no longer carry carbon monoxide-treated beef or veal and would exhaust existing inventories by July 27.

This action is in response to a June letter to the chain from Stupak and John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat. The national supermarket chain joins a long list of supermarkets that have declared they will not carry meat treated with carbon monoxide.

In 2006, several supermarket chains indicated they thought the practice deceives consumers.

“The evidence is overwhelming – treating meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and potentially unsafe,” said Hauter. “There’s no reason why this practice shouldn’t be immediately stopped.”