Prepared Foods February 28, 2005 enewsletter

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), worried about U.S. salt consumption, is suing regulators to force them to classify salt as a food additive.

The center said that too much salt in the diet is boosting U.S. consumers' blood pressure and is prematurely killing roughly 150,000 people each year.

To cut the “approximately 4,000mg per person” of salt consumed in the U.S. each day, the center is suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to compel it to reclassify salt as a food additive.

Currently, the FDA classifies salt as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), which means that it is not closely regulated.

In response to a report by the CSPI on sodium consumption and consumers, Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy for the Food Products Association (FPA), made the following comments:

"When it comes to sodium, consumers have the information they need to make informed food choices. For more than a decade, labels on packaged food products have shown the amount of sodium per serving, as well as the percent Daily Value.

"Moreover, consumers who seek sodium-modified food products -- such as low-sodium, no-sodium, reduced-sodium and no-added-salt varieties -- will find them in all grocery stores. It is simply incorrect to imply that food companies have not made an array of foods available to meet all dietary needs.

"Over the past 40 years, there has been a dramatic reduction in the use of sodium in processed foods. Various new techniques in canning and freezing have reduced the amount of sodium needed. However, reduced-sodium products must appeal to consumers -- which is not a simple task. Also, sodium often plays an important role in food preservation, and there can be no compromising food safety simply to reduce a food product's sodium content.

"Rather than additional government requirements, what is needed is consumer education. For example, advice on sodium consumption can be found in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans."

This is not the first time the CSPI has attempted the sodium switch; a similar lawsuit was dismissed in 1983.

The FDA declined comment. A spokesperson for the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA, Washington) noted that the industry has been reducing salt levels in foods for years, though at incremental levels due to the public's general rejection of low- and no-sodium foods. Efforts to find a salt substitute have been to little avail. Unsurprisingly, the Salt Institute (Alexandria, Va.) defended the ingredient as GRAS “because it is safe” and knows of no reason to change salt's status to that of a food additive.