Wednesday, 05 May 2010

Will the FDA Regulate Amount of Salt in Food?

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saltThe Washington Post reported on April 20 that “the Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease.” The Post also said that “the initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.”

However, the same day, the FDA claimed in a news release that the Post got it wrong. According to the FDA: “A story in today’s Washington Post leaves a mistaken impression that the FDA has begun the process of regulating the amount of sodium in foods. The FDA is not currently working on regulations nor has it made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time.” Yet the same FDA release also stated, regarding a newly released Institute of Medicine report and future FDA plans:

Over the coming weeks, the FDA will more thoroughly review the recommendations of the IOM report and build plans for how the FDA can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply. The Department of Health and Human Services will be establishing an interagency working group on sodium at the Department that will review options and next steps.

Success in reducing sodium intake will require coordinated national action, with participation of all. We are encouraged by the fact that some food manufacturers have already begun or announced their commitment to reduce sodium levels in their products.

The FDA was a sponsor of the IOM report, entitled “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States.” The report recommended:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should expeditiously initiate a process to set a mandatory national standards for the sodium content of foods.

• FDA should modify the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status of salt added to processed foods in order to reduce the salt content of the food supply in a stepwise manner.

• FDA should likewise extend its stepwise application of the GRAS modification, adjusted as necessary, to encompass salt added to menu items offered by restaurant/foodservice operations that are sufficiently standardized so as to allow practical implementation.

• FDA should revisit the GRAS status of other sodium-containing compounds as well as any food additive provisions for such compounds and make adjustments as appropriate consistent with changes for salt in processed foods and restaurant/foodservice menu items.

The bottom line: It would not be surprising if the FDA were to launch an initiative leading to “the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products,” just as the Post claimed. This is not only because of the FDA’s admission that it is reviewing “options or next steps” or the FDA-sponsored “Strategies” report, but also because of the simple fact that a government planning to mandate that all Americans must have government-approved health insurance is going to become increasingly concerned about the policyholders staying healthy.

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