On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration released a draft voluntary guideline for the food industry aimed at phasing out excess salt in processed and commercially prepared foods over a 10-year period. The move, which health experts say could save thousands of lives, has drawn mixed reactions from the food industry.
Leading food companies, such as Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, joined the American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in supporting FDA efforts to reduce sodium intake while the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and the Salt Institute, a trade association, objected to the new guidelines.
The GMA hinted at future feuds with the FDA over nutrition data. In a statement, the association wrote that it “looks forward to working with the agency to ensure that the best and most current science is taken into account in determining sodium intake levels for optimal health for all Americans. “
In contrast, the Salt Institute asserted that the FDA’s guidelines “constitute malpractice and are inexcusable.” The institute cites research and reviews that showed there was no clear scientific consensus on how low salt intake should be.
“We understand that some researchers disagree with the general consensus that too much salt is bad,” said Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC. The New York Times. But, he added, “we find fatal flaws” in the studies they refer to.
The FDA also defended its position, saying that the goal of a sodium intake of 2,300 mg/day for consumers is well supported by science because of its ability to lower blood pressure. Currently, Americans eat about 3,400 mg/day, and one in three Americans has high blood pressure. High blood pressure, which can be caused by eating excessive amounts of salt, is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
However, cutting salt from Americans’ diets isn’t easy, the FDA argued, since most of the excess “comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker.”
The guideline would reduce sodium in about 150 categories of those foods, including pizza, lunchmeat, canned soup, bread and snack foods. The phase-out proposed by the FDA would aim to reduce consumer salt intake to 3,000 mg/day within two years and to 2,300 mg/day in 10 years.