Company Urges Congress to Ban Carbon Monoxide Packaging

WASHINGTON A producer of natural food extracts that objected to carbon monoxide packaging of fresh meat earlier this year is urging Congress to ban the system, a form of modified-atmosphere packaging that helps meat maintain its red color. Kalsec's call for congressional action followed the company's petition last month, to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture,

WASHINGTON — A producer of natural food extracts that objected to carbon monoxide packaging of fresh meat earlier this year is urging Congress to ban the system, a form of modified-atmosphere packaging that helps meat maintain its red color.

Kalsec's call for congressional action followed the company's petition last month, to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking that the federal agencies use their authorities to put a stop to the practice. According to the company's submission to the federal agencies, carbon monoxide modified-atmosphere packaging is not legal, particularly without a label on the product informing consumers of the process. Using the CO MAP process also hampers consumers' ability to judge the freshness of the meat, and puts shoppers at risk due to the extended shelf life representations of the products, Kalsec said in its submission. It was the company's fourth petition to the federal agencies in the past year.

The company is appealing to Congress because of “continuing inaction” on the part of the FDA and USDA to bar the packaging system, said Kalsec, based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“The Kalsec petition has been pending for more than 12 months,” said Don Berdahl, the company's chief scientist, in a statement. “If the federal agencies fail to act, the new Congress should step in and exercise its oversight authority on behalf of consumers.”

CO MAP opponents contend the technology masks the true freshness and safety of meats, since color cannot be used as an indicator of spoilage. Companies are not required to label products as having been treated with CO, so consumers have no way of knowing which case-ready meats are packaged this way.

CO MAP uses a combination of gases, including CO, to displace oxygen in meat packaging to slow oxidation and help meat maintain its red color for weeks. About 60% of meat products use some form of modified-air packaging, and 5% of those products use CO, according to the American Meat Institute Foundation.

Officials at AMI dismissed the company's appeal to Congress as one more “baseless attack on a competing technology.

“The FDA and USDA have reviewed this system and accepted it as both safe and not deceptive to the consumer,” said AMI spokeswoman Janet Riley. “When it comes to food and packaging, we think we should be looking to the nation's food safety agencies to determine what's appropriate. Turning to Congress is inappropriate.”

Earlier this year, Kalsec launched a public relations blitz to raise consumer awareness of the packaging technology. A media controversy erupted over the use of CO MAP and that prompted some retailers to discontinue selling the treated products. AMI officials characterized the controversy as little more than a business issue. Kalsec manufactures a natural food extract that delays the browning of meat, a system that competes with the CO MAP technology, officials at AMI said.