FDA Issues Draft Guidance on Sodium Reduction to Food Industry

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft guidance for public comment that provides “practical, voluntary” sodium reduction targets for the food industry. The short-term (two-year) and long-term (10-year) targets are intended to help the American public gradually reduce sodium intake from 3,400 to 2,300 milligrams per day, a level recommended by experts and scientific evidence. The targets are also intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants and foodservice operations to reduce sodium in foods.

Included in the draft guidance is a common system for defining and measuring progress on reducing sodium in the U.S. food supply, FDA explained. 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.

FDA said it's especially encouraging adoption by food manufacturers with products that make up a significant portion of national sales in one or more categories. The agency estimates that fewer than 10 percent of packaged foods account for more than 80 percent of sales.

“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. “Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health.”

Currently, Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium than what many experts recommend, according to FDA, with a majority of sodium intake coming from processed and prepared foods. Science shows that when sodium intake increases, so does blood pressure, which could lead to heart disease or a stroke. In some Centers for Disease Control studies, researchers estimated that lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in health care costs.

Industry Reaction

Speaking on the topic, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) welcomed a dialogue with FDA, saying that it's looking forward to working with the agency to ensure the “best and most recent science” is considered when determining the right sodium intake levels for optimal health. The industry group noted that success will require a holistic approach that includes the work of manufacturers, retailers and restaurants, and that addresses consumer behavior and preferences.

“GMA members are continuing to improve the nutritional profile of their products, and have made more than 30,000 healthier product choices available to consumers between 2002 and 2013 by reducing sodium, calories, sugar and saturated fat, and increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” said Leon Bruner, chief science officer at Washington, D.C.-based GMA. “These include 6,500 product choices with reduced sodium, as GMA member companies have been reformulating products to provide lower-sodium options to help consumers achieve healthy sodium intake levels.

SNAC International, the former Snack Food Association, was more critical of the move, however, describing itself as "disappointed that the FDA would release industry guidance and thresholds for a nutrient where the science is evolving," and pointing out that its members have already voluntarily introduced no- and lower-sodium alternatives. "Until real scientific consensus is reached, policy changes to further reduce sodium intake should be avoided to minimize unintended consequences," the Arlington, Va.-based organization opined, nevertheless adding that it would continue to work with its members and the industry to provide lower-sodium options.

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