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IOM urges government action on sodium, FDA says no decision yet

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 21-Apr-2010
Last updated on 27-Apr-2010 at 10:27 GMT

The FDA has refuted claims that it has already begun a program to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods, after a new Institute of Medicine report said its current strategies to reduce sodium intake are failing.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to gradually reduce the amount of sodium in foods over a period of ten years. But the FDA said in a statement that the report – which quoted “FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced” – is false.

“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. “Over the coming weeks, the FDA will more thoroughly review the recommendations of the IOM report and build plans for how the FDA can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply.”

The IOM report was undertaken at government’s behest, and concluded that government strategies to reduce sodium intake to recommended levels are needed.

The institute also reported that industry efforts to reduce sodium have not gone far enough.

“While numerous stakeholders have initiated voluntary efforts to reduce sodium consumption in the United States during the past 40 years, they have not succeeded,” the report said. “Challenges arise because salt — the primary source of sodium in the diet — and other sodium-containing compounds often are used to enhance the flavor of foods, and high amounts are found in processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants. Sodium also is added to enhance texture or to serve as a preservative or thickener.”

The report said that a coordinated effort is needed to reduce sodium across the board to “create a level playing field for the food industry”. Without major change, it claims that hypertension and cardiovascular disease rates will continue to rise.

Industry response

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said it welcomed the IOM report, and underlined that the food industry has been working for years to introduce low- and no-sodium products.

“The food industry is committed to continue to reduce the sodium content in thousands of products to help consumers reach the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. And we look forward to working with the US Food and Drug Administration to develop a national sodium reduction strategy that will help consumers,” the GMA said.

Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the government to implement the IOM’s recommendations, and industry to continue reducing sodium while the FDA decides how to respond.

According to figures from the US Department of Agriculture, Americans currently consume about 4,000mg of sodium a day – far more than the limit recommended by public health experts, of 2,300mg. The IOM and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put average consumption at 3,400mg a day, or about 50 percent more than the recommended maximum.

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