Don't gas the red meat

Red meat can be a wonderful thing. But we're not so sure about meat that is red because it has been subjected to a gas found in car exhaust.

Apparently, the U.S. Agriculture Department has no such qualms, even though the safety of using carbon monoxide to keep older cuts of meat looking red and fresh has been questioned recently. During a congressional hearing this month, scientists testified that the tests leading to approval of the technology in 2004 may have been faulty.

While most evidence suggests that the practice poses little danger to consumers, the hearings did result in some headway for opponents of using carbon monoxide on meat. Chief executives of both Cargill and Hormel, two of the nation's largest meat producers, said they were willing to put labels on their carbon monoxide-treated meats.

In addition, a number of large grocery chains and meat processors said they will stop using the technology or selling gassed meats.

The labels may be enough to spark consumer awareness. Who will buy meat they know has artificially been made to look red if they have can buy fresh meat instead?

The process may be relatively harmless. After all, most of our processed foods are enhanced by dyes and additives that enhance eye appeal.

But when most of us envision a juicy piece of red meat, we think of the real thing, not aging meat that has been doused with a deadly gas. It's almost enough to turn us into vegetarians -- almost, but not quite enough.

At least major meat producers have agreed to label meat that is exposed to gas.