The Salt Institute, a trade association for companies producing and selling salt for food, road applications and industrial manufacturing, closed down at the end of March, according to Food Business News. The group had been in existence since 1914, the site reported.
"Over the years, the Salt Institute has made a positive impact demonstrating the essential nature of salt in our daily lives through fact-based information, research studies and educational tools," the institute's board said in a statement reported by National Public Radio. "The member companies are grateful for the expertise, dedication and support the Salt Institute has provided since its inception."
NPR said no specific reasons were given for the closure, and Lori Roman, the institute's president, said she was no longer speaking for the association. NPR also said it had contacted major salt companies with employees on the Salt Institute's board, such as Cargill and Morton Salt, but they wouldn't provide any further information, either.
The voice of the salt industry is now silent, and no details about why have been forthcoming. However, NPR reported the group's former longtime president, Dick Hanneman, said the Salt Institute had fewer than a dozen member companies funding it when he left in 2010.
"So if a few large companies lose interest in it, then the funding goes away," he told NPR. "My sense of it is that there's a lot of change in the corporate structure of salt companies."
In advocating for salt consumption, the institute said in 2014 that Americans were eating the right amount of salt, and if they got too much, the body would simply eliminate it. However, as Food Business News pointed out, the group's views on healthy levels of sodium consumption were not the same as those of other consumer health related organizations and governmental regulatory agencies.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend sodium levels are kept below 2,300 milligrams daily. However, according to Food Business News, the Salt Institute cited a Lancet study last summer that found sodium intake only associated with cardiovascular disease and strokes in communities where the average intake was greater than five grams — or 5,000 mg — per day.
Michael Jacobson, senior scientist for Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement the Salt Institute will not be missed.
"Over the years the Salt Institute has purposefully muddied the waters on sodium intake and health, going as far to say that Americans are eating just the right amount of sodium — a position rejected by virtually every health authority," Jacobson said. He added any doubt had evaporated with the recent publication of a report from the National Academy of Sciences concluding that cutting current levels of salt consumption would lower not only blood pressure, but also the risk of cardiovascular disease.
While the Salt Institute's website has also gone dark, archived images from February show promotion both of salt as an ingredient and salt as a tool to melt ice on roadways.
With closure of the Salt Institute, the ingredient no longer has a formal trade association advocate at a time when talk about appropriate consumption levels is heating up. The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are starting to take shape and consumer and public health groups will be lobbying for lowered sodium level recommendations.
Perhaps in the absence of the group, more sodium reduction will take place. According to a nationwide study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sodium levels in packaged foods dropped by 12% between 2000 and 2014.
Companies have already been trimming the amount of sodium in their foods and beverages in response to changing preferences. Natural salt-reduction strategies are of particular interest to the food industry these days, with replacement ingredients made from mushrooms, milk and yeast extracts, among other sources, drawing increased attention.
Many consumers have consciously limited their sodium intake by checking labels, not adding salt at the table and limiting salty snacks. Manufacturers such as Nestlé, Campbell, Unilever, PepsiCo and others have responded to the trend by reformulating recipes and coming up with innovative ways to reduce sodium in their products. About 58% of Americans say they look at the sodium content of foods when grocery shopping, according to CDC research.
Meanwhile, it's possible another advocacy group will emerge to take the place of the Salt Institute. Without an advocate for the ingredient, it could mean additional sodium reduction and increased government policy restrictions.