The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement Tuesday, saying “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.”
That might be because the headline on the Washington Post story said “FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons.”
“The FDA is not currently working on regulations nor have they made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time,” the agency said in a prepared statement.
The Washington Post story said FDA is “planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce salt consumed each day by Americans…” It would be no surprise if FDA put its support behind a national initiative announced in January to get food processors and restaurants to reduce their sodium use by 25 percent over the next five years.
That effort has already shown some success as some nationally known food processors have announced their own plans to reduce salt use. However, the Washington Post reported that a coming initiative “to be launched this year, would eventually lead to first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.”
That’s the part that’s not so, according to FDA.
“Success in reducing sodium intake will require coordinated national action, with participation of all,” FDA’s statement said. “We are encouraged by the fact that some food manufacturers have already begun or announced their commitments to reduce sodium levels in their products.”
The need to cut sodium intake by Americans got another boost this week in a report from the Institute of Medicine, which calls for national action.
Sodium is associated with hypertension and heart disease.
FDA said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is setting up an interagency working group on sodium. It will review the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report and work with industry and consumer groups on reducing sodium in the food supply.
Food processors, even those reducing sodium levels, say it will take time to find substitutes to maintain taste and for consumers not to crave as much sodium. Americans consume about one and one-half teaspoons of salt each day, with almost 80 percent of it coming as an ingredient in packaged and restaurant foods.
FDA’s statement taking exception to the Washington Post story did not deny that the agency has the authority to limit sodium use. If and when it ever does so, it would involve a full-blown rule making and public comment process.
Michael Jacobson, who heads up the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says reducing sodium in food is the most important thing FDA could do to promote health.