Safeway Removes CO-Treated Meat

Safeway has discontinued all meat products sold in carbon monoxide-modified atmosphere packaging, effective July 27, the company recently announced. Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill told SN that the company's decision to discontinue these products was made in reaction to consumer interests, but acknowledged that a June letter from the leaders of two congressional committees,

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway has discontinued all meat products sold in carbon monoxide-modified atmosphere packaging, effective July 27, the company recently announced.

Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill told SN that the company's decision to discontinue these products was made “in reaction to consumer interests,” but acknowledged that a June letter from the leaders of two congressional committees, “demanding that Safeway stores and three major meat-packaging companies respond to concerns about the public health risks posed by meat treated with carbon monoxide,” also played a role in the move.

In response to the letter, authored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Safeway wrote:

“Because the committee had expressed concerns and, in doing so, may have raised concerns with consumers who do not have the benefit and background on the process and may be confused, we have elected to discontinue the sale of fresh meat products packaged under CO-modified atmosphere packaging conditions. Safeway has notified its CO-MAP fresh suppliers of the decision. Likewise, we have ceased ordering and receiving CO-MAP fresh meats in our distribution system.”

By discontinuing these products, Safeway joins a growing list of food retailers that have declared they will not sell carbon monoxide-treated meat, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Publix, Stop & Shop, A&P, Wegmans and Whole Foods. Stupak and Dingell had indicated that they singled out Safeway with their letter because it was the largest single supermarket chain in the United States still offering CO-MAP treated meats.

Stupak also recently introduced a bill, “Carbon Monoxide Treated Meat Safe Handling, Labeling, and Consumer Protection Act,” that would require fresh meat, poultry and seafood treated with carbon monoxide to be labeled as such. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who introduced an unsuccessful bill to ban the use of CO in fresh meat packaging in the last congressional session, is a co-sponsor.

“I am pleased Safeway decided to stop using carbon monoxide in meat packaging to make meat look red, wholesome and fresh,” Stupak said in a release.

“I hope other companies will follow Safeway's lead.”

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004, carbon monoxide treatments keep meat looking red and fresh by activating a bright red pigment that masks natural aging and spoilage. Advocates of the treatment say that it reduces billions of dollars in annual waste caused by meats that shoppers begin passing over long before their expiration date.

“There were some suppliers who used MAP in packaging their meat so that it continued to look fresh when it was fresh, not when it was not, throughout the distribution chain, the transportation chain, and throughout the display of the store until the expiration date,” explained Massingill.

The treatment itself is not considered to be a health hazard. But consumer groups and other opponents argue that the process is deceitful, since shoppers gauge freshness visually, and meats in CO-modified atmosphere packaging will stay red indefinitely, well beyond the point at which they begin to spoil.

A survey published by the Consumer Federation of America in September 2006 found that 78% of respondents felt that the practice of CO treatment was deceptive, while 68% said they would strongly support mandatory labeling.