A News Food and Nutrition — 01 June 2016

The voluntary, draft sodium-reduction targets released today by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could help prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths annually due to heart attacks and strokes, and could save tens of billions of dollars in medical costs, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The draft proposes certain levels of sodium in 150 categories of processed and restaurant foods.  Once finalized, interim targets are set to be met in two years.  The guidance proposes maximum sodium levels for each of the categories of foods.

FIGHT THE PAIN Visa Prepaid Card Ad 3 V1The targets are part of the FDA’s response to a lawsuit that CSPI had filed against the FDA last October seeking action on a 2005 petition in which CSPI asked the agency to reduce excess sodium—mostly from salt—in the food supply. In addition to the draft guidance, the FDA today formally denied CSPI’s petition that asked for mandatory, versus of voluntary standards.

The average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day, far in excess of the 2,300 mg limit recommended by federal dietary guidelines.  It is also vastly greater than the 1,500 mg limit recommended for people with hypertension or pre-hypertension, which represents approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population.

A package of this Banquet Turkey

Meal has 1,460mg of sodium.

“We hope that industry will work cooperatively with the FDA and health experts to achieve the proposed reductions, which would benefit the health of all Americans,” said Michael F. Jacobson, president of CSPI

“While this is a voluntary approach as opposed to the mandatory approach we asked for and that the Institute of Medicine endorsed, it provides clear goals by which companies can be held accountable.  And, it helps level the playing field for those companies that are already trying to use less salt in their foods,” he added.

CSPI’s 2005 petition asked the FDA to revoke salt’s status as a “generally recognized as safe,” substance, and to treat it as a food additive under the law.  New York City requires restaurants to place warning symbols next to menu items that provide at least a whole day’s worth of sodium.

The two-year sodium-reduction targets will now be subject to 90 days of public comment and the 10-year targets to 150 days of public comment.  FDA will then consider those comments before issuing final guidance.

“The Obama Administration has led many public health initiatives that will improve the way Americans eat for many years to come,” Jacobson said.  “If industry takes these targets seriously, this initiative could have the biggest impact.”

An April 2016 market basket survey conducted by CSPI of 451 packaged and restaurant foods found a slight four percent reduction in sodium over a 10-year period.  It found dramatic variations in sodium content among different brands of a given food.

While a few researchers have opposed the lowering of sodium, the Institute of Medicine, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and the World Health Organization have recommended that companies reduce sodium levels in their products and that people eat lower sodium diets.

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