FDA announces proposed sodium reduction targets
- In a widely-anticipated move, the FDA released draft targets on Wednesday for voluntary sodium reduction in the food industry, according to a press release issued by the agency.
- The goal of the targets is to limit sodium consumption to 3,000 mg per day in the short term (two years) and 2,300 mg each day in the long term (10 years). Today's average sodium intake is 3,400 mg per day.
- The FDA's targets organize foods into about 150 categories and are aimed at most processed and commercially prepared foods.
Salt consumption is a point of contention for the food industry. Salt has long been linked to health problems like heart disease and stroke, though recent research has challenged salt's "unhealthy" perception. Still, sodium intake in the U.S. is nearly 50% over the recommendations of most experts, according to the FDA.
The FDA's action is targeted at processed and prepared foods, which make up the majority of diets, according to Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Americans today on average consume about 58% of their total daily calories from "ultra-processed" foods, such as frozen pizza and soda, according to a study published in the medical journal BMJ Open.
The FDA's action comes after a lawsuit filed by The Center for Science in the Public Interest against the FDA in October 2015 for failing to act on a decade-old petition for salt reduction in the U.S. food supply. It gave the agency a June 1 deadline to respond to that petition, which was met today. The targets took consumer preferences and industry reduction steps into account, according to the FDA.
Some in the food industry have been working to reduce sodium without targets in place. Companies like Nestle and Mars already voiced support. Other groups, like the Salt Institute, have voiced concern about the effect of the regulations. They worry where manufacturers will turn for flavor with less salt. "Food producers are placed under intense pressure to abide by the arbitrary limits despite the use of the term 'voluntary' and even when food producers do manage to safely lower the sodium in their foods they almost never meet the targets," the Salt Institute said in a statement Wednesday. "Even when they do this does not in fact reduce population wide sodium consumption as the body naturally craves a certain amount of sodium to maintain optimum health."
On a media conference call, Mayne said it was difficult to estimate the costs for the food industry since some have already met many targets, and the FDA is expecting to engage with the industry.
As for others in the industry, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement that it is prepared to work with the FDA and making sure the science is sound behind salt consumption levels. General Mills has made efforts to reduce sodium for more than 10 years, by the end of 2015 limiting it in 350 products (one-third of its U.S. retail sales volume).