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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 11:52 pm

The red meat con

How the food industry disguises the freshness of meat

Untitled Document Fast-fingered con artists used to dupe people with the old shell game at county fairs and carnivals, but the con has now gone corporate and moved inside the offices of government regulators. Agribusiness powers are currently playing a shell game with the “fresh” meat sold in stores across the country. One clear sign of freshness that we consumers rely on is the meat’s red color, right? Well, no more. The industry has come up with a fast-fingered deception that keeps the meat red not just for a few days but for months! The meat can go bad, but you won’t know it, because a little spritz of carbon monoxide and other gases inside the plastic-wrapped package prevents the telltale browning that’s a sign of spoilage.
In 2004, federal food regulators properly expressed alarm that this gassing trick was a consumer deception that could mask dangerous meat. But industry lobbyists quickly moved in and, only one month later, the regulators reversed themselves, approving the perpetually red meat for sale. Our so-called watchdogs did not conduct any studies, instead relying on industry data. Nor did they bother notifying us consumers that the redness of meat should no longer be trusted. At last Congress is moving to require that this color-altered meat be labeled as such so that we consumers can make up our own minds whether we want it. Once again, though, industry lobbyists are on the prowl, claiming that such labels would be “alarmist” and “unfair.”
Why unfair? Because, they say with a con man’s sly grin, the regulators have approved the gassing process, so consumers have no need to be informed! Thus the shell game comes full circle — industry colors our meat to deceive us, writes the regulation to allow the deception, then cites the regulation as reason to keep deceiving us.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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