FDA finally agrees to re-examine position on salt

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt, Food processing, Food

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may consider revising its
regulations on salt, and has set a public hearing to examine the
possible implications of tighter limits.

The hearing, which is to take place on November 29, comes after the filing of a citizen petition by advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had requested changes to the regulatory status of salt. Filed in 2005, the petition called for the implementation of limits on salt in processed foods, and the use of health messages related to salt. CSPI also called for the FDA to revoke the 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) status of the substance, suggesting that it should instead be treated as a food additive. FDA said the purpose of the forthcoming hearing is to share its current framework of policies regarding salt and sodium and to receive comments on this current framework and on potential future approaches, including approaches described in the citizen petition. Excessive sodium consumption has been repeatedly linked to the development of high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease, the world's number one killer. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed food. Published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), these guidelines suggest that young adults should limit their daily sodium intake to 2,300mg. This is significantly lower than the 3,400mg actually consumed, according to the latest data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). CSPI's 2005 petition was not the first time the organization challenged the FDA on its salt policy. In 1978, the group again petitioned for the establishment of limits for sodium in processed foods and for the reclassification of salt as a food additive. The petition also called for sodium content labeling on packaged foods and a special symbol on the labels of high-sodium foods. FDA denied the petition in 1982. In 1981, CSPI submitted a citizen petition requesting that FDA require warning labels on packages of salt weighing half an ounce or more. FDA denied that petition in a letter dated October 7, 1982. In that denial letter, FDA considered an isolated warning appearing on the label of one class of food products to be inappropriate given that many foods contribute to an individual's sodium intake. In its latest 2005 petition, CSPI recognized that FDA has implemented several labeling requirements related to the sodium content of food through the NLEA as well as other labeling provisions, but said that these measures have not done enough to reduce sodium consumption. The organization stated that based on the negative health impacts of salt, this should no longer be considered as 'safe', arguing that its GRAS status should be revoked. FDA said in a Federal Register Notice published yesterday: "FDA is aware that other organizations are in general agreement with some of the recommendations in CSPI's petition". "For example, at the July 2006 annual meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA), the AMA announced recommendations, in the form of a report issued by the AMA's Council on Science and Health, to the agency echoing many of the regulatory actions suggested by CSPI. The agency is very much interested in hearing the views of other interested parties, including the AMA." ​ FDA also said it is interested in discussions regarding other potential approaches for reducing salt intake. Some of the questions the agency has put up for discussion include whether a food additive regulation could be constructed to prescribe limitations for uses of salt, and if so, how the regulation might be constructed. In addition, the agency wants to know if reducing salt levels could have any impact on the safety or quality of products. It is also calling for comments on the labeling of salt on foods. Yesterday also marked the end of a two-day conference held by CSPI in collaboration with the food trade body Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which brought together industry members, health professionals and government officials for a discussion on salt. Topics of discussion included industry experience in cutting sodium levels, consumers' taste expectations, salt substitutes, and research and education needs. Numerous major food companies, food associations, salt and ingredient manufacturers, health organizations, and US government representatives - including FDA - participated in the conference. To view the Federal Register notice published yesterday, click here​.

Related topics: Preservatives and acidulants

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