FDA pressed for tighter salt restrictions

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt, Food and drug administration

Health organizations called for stricter regulations on salt and
sodium content in food at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
public meeting held yesterday.

The meeting was held to review the current policies in response to a citizen petition gathered by nutrition watchdog the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) requesting that changes be made. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said: "While the FDA has historically declined to challenge companies to lower high sodium levels, it is increasingly hard for FDA officials to ignore the calls to action made in recent years by the medical community." ​The health groups wanted the FDA to strengthen labeling and to change salt's current status from "generally recognised as safe" (GRAS) to being controlled as a food additive. On the other side, the Salt Institute encouraged a controlled investigation into whether a reduction in salt would really improve public health. The CSPI has been lobbying the FDA since 1978, filing petitions and even bringing a lawsuit in 2005, accusing the agency of not honoring its Reagan-era promise to press food companies to reduce salt content. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), which also testified at the hearing, 150,000 US deaths a year could be prevented by halving the amount of salt in American food products. AMA vice president for science, quality and public health Stephen Havas said: "The deaths attributed to excess salt consumption represent a huge toll - the equivalent of a jumbo jet with more than 400 passengers crashing every day of the year, year after year. "Excess sodium greatly increases the chance of developing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Research shows most Americans consume two to three times the amount of sodium that is healthy, with an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the daily intake of sodium coming from processed and restaurant foods." ​ The FDA has not assessed the status of salt since 1982 but now uses labeling to inform the public about salt. At the meeting, health organizations cited the extensive research that has pointed towards risks arising from consuming too much salt. However, Salt Institute president Richard Hanneman said: "Correcting current deficiencies in potassium, calcium and magnesium by encouraging greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products would be a superior strategy."​ The American Heart Association (AHA) called for nutrient labeling to appear on the front of packaging. It said that the average American consumes six to 18g of salt daily. This is equal to between one and three teaspoonfuls. It says the body needs only about 0.5g of salt each day, and this excess salt consumption is contributing to heart disease and strokes - the current number one and number three killers in the US. The AHA also says that American consumer up to 75 per cent of their sodium from processed foods like tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes. AMA drew on similar findings. Havas said: "Americans don't consume large amounts of salt because they request it, but often do so unknowingly because manufacturers and restaurants put it in food. TheUSshould follow the lead of countries such asFinlandand theUKwho have taken action on salt, and seen promising results."​ Following recommendations made by the Food Standards Agency in the UK, the salt level in ready meals has dropped 45 per cent since four years ago, according to the Consensus Action on Salt and Health. Meanwhile in Finland, the average salt intake for men in 1997 was 10.5g, but the Nation Nutrition Council has been encouraging its reduction through regulation.

Related topics: Food labelling

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