WASHINGTON - Minnesota companies Cargill Inc. and Hormel Foods Corp. told the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday that their practice of packaging meat in carbon monoxide was safe, while consumer groups critical of the practice steamed about getting excluded from the hearing.
The meat industry uses the practice to help meat retain its red color, but critics say it misleads consumers about its freshness.
"The product has been in the market for four years, and it has been extremely well received by our retailers and our consumers," said Phil Minerich, a vice president at Hormel.
Last week, Safe Tables Our Priority and other groups opposed to the use of carbon monoxide asked the committee chairman, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, for a chance to testify at the hearing but were turned down.
"This isn't the appropriate venue for that," Peterson said in a brief interview before the hearing. He said the purpose was to educate committee members about meat industry technologies.
Since 2002, the Food and Drug Administration has given the go-ahead to use carbon monoxide under a process "generally recognized as safe."
Officials from both Hormel and Cargill stressed that color is not a good gauge for meat's freshness and that consumers should rely on the use-by date. The companies use the technology in a joint venture called Precept Foods.