Stop the Use of Carbon Monoxide in Meat and Fish

Ground Beef

Target: Margaret A. Hamburg, Commission of the Food and Drug Administration

Goal: Ban the use of carbon monoxide as a preservative in meat and fish products

Prepackaged meat and fish are commonly treated with carbon monoxide to preserve a fresh color. Large companies that cut and package beef, pork, and fish for sale in supermarkets use carbon monoxide through modified atmosphere packaging in order to maintain a bright red color so that the product appears to be at its freshest. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows this practice, promoting the sale of old meat and fish.

Consumers use the color of meat and fish as a clue to its freshness. The bright red color that consumers see in precut and prepackaged items is a false indicator of the time a product has been on the shelf. The use of carbon monoxide allows meat to keep a fresh red color for at least three weeks, which is a vastly longer time than the several days that unpackaged meat retains its red color. In a congressional hearing against the use of carbon monoxide, a two-year-old, bright pink piece of packaged meat was used as an example of the misleading appearance of carbon monoxide-treated meat. Consumers are being tricked into thinking that a product is at its freshest, but in reality may be buying meat that is way past its prime.

Many countries have already banned the use of carbon monoxide in meat and fish packaging, including Canada, Singapore, Japan, and the European Union. While studies have shown that carbon monoxide does not pose significant danger in the amounts consumed in meat, the principle of passing off old meat as new is problematic. At worst, the use of carbon monoxide is harmful to health, and at best the use of carbon monoxide is a shady practice to pull a fast one over the consumer. For customers who are not in the habit of looking at a sell by or use by date, the use of carbon monoxide is certainly dangerous since meat near spoilage looks like it is fresh from slaughter.

The FDA needs to follow suit with the practices in the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Singapore and ban the use of carbon monoxide in packaged meats. Not only would this protect against the sale of old and potentially bacteria-riddled meat, but it also promotes honest trade and ensures that the consumer is getting what he paid for. Tell the FDA to stop the use of carbon monoxide in meat and fish packaging.


Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

The FDA’s practices concerning the use of carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packaging need to be altered. Consumers are not interested in buying meat that is three weeks old and allowing the use of carbon monoxide only promotes the sale of untrustworthy products that may also be very close to spoiling. By permitting the use of carbon monoxide, you are increasing the likelihood that consumers will buy meat that has gone bad or is close to going bad. Thus, American consumers are in danger of ingesting meat and fish laden with bacteria and parasites.

Since the vast majority of consumers rely on the color of meat to determine whether a product is fresh and safe to eat, the false red color that meat and fish products retain as a result of carbon monoxide is a danger to consumers. The FDA has a responsibility to protect consumers from health risks and make sure that what they pay for is actually being sold to them. Industrial meat packing uses carbon monoxide in order to maintain an appearance of freshness so that they do not lose money by having to discount old meat. It is time to stop protecting big business and look out for the American people that depend on you for their health and safety.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons

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