June 8, 2006 - Rep. Markey calls on FDA to stop carbon monoxide treatment of meats

As Summer BBQ Season Heats Up, Democrats Call on State Health Officials to Stop Carbon Monoxide Treatments of Meat and Fish

Inaction by the Food and Drug Administration Forces State Health Authorities to Better Protect Consumers from Potentially Spoiled Meat and Fish

Washington, D.C. -  Senior Democrats of the Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters today to health officials in every state urging them to use their authority to prevent the sale of meat and fish products treated with carbon monoxide or at least ensure that labeling for such products include a very clear and protective “use or freeze by” date.


Carbon monoxide is used to alter the color of meat and fish to make those substances appear edible beyond the time when they decompose sufficiently to be contaminated by one or more dangerous toxins.

“It is a shame that the FDA will not take timely action to protect American consumers,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (MI), Ranking Member of the Committee. “Consumers need to be warned that they cannot rely on product color to determine the safety of meat or fish products.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said, “Americans shouldn’t be wondering whether or not their families are going to get sick at this summer’s barbeques and cookouts from fresh-looking meat and fish that has actually turned bad.  If the FDA is unwilling to regulate this industry, it is time for each state’s health officials to use their authority to make sure grocery stores are selling fish and meat that doesn’t deceive consumers.”

 “Treating meat with carbon monoxide is deception at best and at worst it masks deadly pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  “Where the FDA has fallen down on the job, I hope state public health officials will stand up for and protect consumers.”              

“States have always been at the forefront of identifying unsafe foods and protecting consumers from them,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (CA).  “We urge them to once again step up to the plate and fill in the gap left by FDA’s inaction.”

In letters dated February 9, 2006, and March 30, 2006, Energy and Commerce Democrats requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration remove products treated with carbon monoxide from markets until claims of such products’ safety could be assessed.    

Link to photographs of meat treated with carbon monoxide can be found here

The text of today’s letter and the two previous letters follow below.             

- 30 -


Text of the letter:

June 8, 2006

            We are writing to ask you to use your authority to prevent the sale of meat and fish products treated with carbon monoxide (CO).  Alternatively, we ask that you ensure that labeling for such products include a very clear and protective “use or freeze by” date, and that consumers are aware that they cannot rely on product color to determine the safety of meat or fish at retailers that carry such products.  We understand that the expiration dates on some of these potentially dangerous products are illegible and the dates themselves may not provide adequate protection against toxins (studies vary widely).

            By letters dated February 9, 2006, and March 30, 2006 (attached), we requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration remove meat treated with carbon monoxide from the market until industry claims that such products were safe could be assessed through a public notice and comment hearing procedure as required by law.  Those letters and their attachments document the risk to Americans from meat and fish treated with carbon monoxide to prevent the deterioration in color that consumers rely upon to determine whether or not such products are wholesome.

            We understand that many large grocery stores, as well as many smaller independent stores and butcher shops, refuse to carry such products.  But where these products are sold, consumers are at risk and could use your help.

            Thank you for your attention to this matter.  If your have any questions, please contact David Nelson of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Democratic staff at 202-226-3400.

 
Sincerely,

 
JOHN D. DINGELL                                                    HENRY A. WAXMAN

BART STUPAK                                                          EDWARD J. MARKEY

cc:       

The Honorable Joe Barton, Chairman
Committee on Energy and Commerce

The Honorable Ed Whitfield, Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 8, 2006


 

CONTACT: Israel Klein/Markey
202.225.2836

Jodi Seth/Dingell 225.3641

Alex Haurek/Stupak 225.4735

Karen Lightfoot/Waxman 225.5051