For example, the FDA recommends that the baking industry cut salt in various types of bread and that the seafood industry reduce salt in snails and caviar. Frozen food manufacturers are urged to reduce sodium in foods like tater tots and corn dogs.
The goal is to slowly reduce the sodium used in the U.S. food supply so consumers’ palates can adjust to eating less salt over time.
Background: Decision to formally require less salt in processed foods is in the works for the FDA through multiple jurisdictions, Democrat and Republican, but suffered significant delays after parts of the food industry fought the policy .
The FDA first published a draft of voluntary sodium reduction targets in 2016, part of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to encourage better nutrition and fight childhood obesity. At the time, the agency noted that the average person was consuming about 3,400 milligrams per day of sodium. The agency advised people to reduce that by a third to meet federal dietary guidelines – to 2,300 mg per day, or about a teaspoon.
The government estimates that about 70 percent of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from sodium added during food processing and commercial food preparation.
During the Trump administration, then FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb surprised some by sticking to pressure from the Obama administration to limit salt. In 2018, Gottlieb said there was “no more effective public health action related to nutrition than reducing sodium in the diet.”
Health effects: Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. According to the FDA, 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 10 children have high blood pressure – health officials said Wednesday that 95% of children aged 2 to 13 “far exceed” the recommended sodium intake. In 2019, high blood pressure contributed to the deaths of 516,955 people in the United States
“We know that even these modest reductions, made slowly over the next few years, will dramatically reduce nutrition-related illnesses, improve the health of the overall population and reduce the burden of healthcare costs in this country,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Government and health advocates have argued that reducing sodium intake can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs.
Encourage less salt: Health advocates have welcomed the FDA’s announcement, although they have called on the agency to go further.
The American Heart Association called the announcement an “important step forward”, while saying it was “not enough” to seek only a 12% reduction in salt intake as Americans consume on average about 50% more sodium than the government recommends.
Some food industry executives have also praised the new policy, acknowledging that many consumers are looking for healthier options and supporting stealth reduction in sodium.
For example, Mars, which makes brands like Ben’s Original and Tasty Bite, has long supported the FDA’s salt reduction efforts, even when many other big food companies lobbied against the policy.
The company said on Wednesday it was “very happy” to see the goals released. Mars aims to reduce sodium by 45% on average in most of its products, with nearly all of its products meeting or exceeding short-term FDA targets by 2025.
And after: The FDA has published finalized reduction targets for the next two and a half years. Agency officials said they would closely monitor the progress of the food industry and plan to set more stringent voluntary targets in the future.
“We anticipate this will be an iterative process, to continue reducing targets,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. The goal is to bring U.S. consumers below recommended federal guidelines, but to do so slowly over time, officials said.
Agency executives declined to say whether they would consider mandatory sodium reduction targets if the food industry did not make enough progress in reducing the salt in its products over the next few years.