BY GAIL BARNES
On Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance for public comment that provides practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry.
The average sodium intake in the US is approximately 3,400 mg per day. The draft short-term (two-year) and long-term (ten-year) voluntary targets for the industry are intended to help the American public gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300mg per day, a level recommended by leading experts and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence. The targets are also intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice operations to reduce sodium in foods.
According to FDA, Americans consume almost 50% more sodium than what most experts recommend. One in three individuals has high blood pressure, which has been linked to diets high in sodium and is a major risk factor cause of heart disease and stroke. That number climbs to one in two African Americans and even includes one in ten children aged 8-17. While a majority of Americans reports watching or trying to reduce added salt in their diets, the deck has been stacked against them. The majority of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker.
The FDA states that the science supporting the relationship between sodium reduction and health is clear: when sodium intake increases, blood pressure increases, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – two leading causes of death in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a number of key studies, which continue to support the benefits of sodium reduction in lowering blood pressure. In some of these studies, researchers have estimated that lowering US sodium intake by about 40% over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs.
The FDA is especially encouraging adoption by food manufacturers whose products make up a significant portion of national sales in one or more categories and restaurant chains that are national and regional in scope. The FDA estimates that less than 10% of packaged foods account for more than 80% of sales. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, about 50% of every food dollar goes to food consumed outside the home. Therefore the draft voluntary guidance also covers common foods served in restaurants and other food service establishments.
“The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels,” said Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths. Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves.”
Included in the draft guidance is a common system for defining and measuring progress on reducing sodium in the US food supply. The approach is to establish reasonable, voluntary reduction targets for the majority of processed and prepared foods, placing foods in nearly 150 categories from bakery products to soups. The draft targets factor in data on consumer preferences, as well as current industry efforts to reduce sodium. The FDA is confident that the short-term targets, which seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000mg per day, are readily achievable. In fact, many foods, such as top-selling pretzel products, have already met the short-term target.
Industry reaction has been tempered. The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement by Leon Bruner, chief science officer: “GMA and its member companies are committed to continue our efforts to provide consumers with healthful choices. We welcome a dialogue with FDA on its sodium reduction targets and look forward to working with the agency to ensure the best and most recent science is taken into account when determining sodium intake levels for optimal health for all Americans. Success in cutting sodium consumption will require a holistic approach that includes actions by manufacturers, retailers and restaurants and that addresses consumer behaviours and preferences.”
Mars, the maker of Uncle Ben’s rice, was quoted in the press as expressing their support, saying the company reduced sodium in its products by 25% from 2007 to 2012 and that it plans to reduce sodium an additional 20% by 2021. General Mills was quoted as saying that it has reduced sodium in more than 350 products.
And advances in flexible packaging could offer a silver lining for brand owners. As a result of the superior barrier properties of these films, significantly lower amounts of salt and other preservatives are required.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2021
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