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Idea of "healthy pink' at heart of meat fight

A Food and Drug Administration official said Tuesday that she was unaware of any scientific studies indicating that the color of a piece of meat is central to a shopper's decision to buy it - even though a petition recently filed with the agency describes several such studies.

Laura Tarantino, director of the Office of Food Additive Safety, sought to allay concerns about the safety and freshness of the nation's meat supply after revelations in the Washington Post that a growing proportion of American prepackaged meats are spiked with carbon monoxide - a gas that keeps even rotten meat looking red and fresh.

The issue of how consumers make their choices is central to the argument made by Kalsec of Kalamazoo, Mich., that the use of carbon monoxide to keep meat red is a "deceptive practice."

Kalsec sells natural extracts that slow the browning of packaged meats - a business threatened by the growing use of carbon monoxide.

Kalsec wants carbon monoxide reclassified as a "color additive," which would require a public review of safety data. Its petition, filed in November, cites a Colorado State University study, a study published in the Journal of Food Science, a study in the Journal of Animal Science and a National Pork Board/American Meat Science Association fact sheet, all of which cited the importance of color in customers' decisions.