The US government will this week re-examine its position on salt, a move that could ultimately lead to new regulations and limits governing the use of the compound.
The public hearing, which will take place on Thursday, is a long-awaited move by health advocates who have long been campaigning for stricter limits to be placed on the levels of salt in processed foods.
FDA called for the hearing this week in order to examine the possible implications of tighter limits.
It comes after the filing of a citizen petition in 2005 by advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had called for the FDA to revoke the 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) status of the substance, suggesting that it should instead be treated as a food additive.
FDA said the purpose of the hearing is to share its current framework of policies regarding salt and sodium and to receive comments on this current framework and on potential future approaches, including approaches described in the citizen petition.
Excessive sodium consumption has been repeatedly linked to the development of high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease, the world's number one killer.
Sodium is also currently in the spotlight in Canada.
Leading Canadian health groups last month joined forces to urge for comprehensive action to reduce sodium levels in food. The Seventeen groups and associations pledged to get Canadians within the "healthy" range of salt intake by January 1 2020.
In order to achieve this goal, the groups are urging the federal government to set graduated targets for sodium levels according to food categories and monitor progress by 2012 and 2016. They are also asking for the establishment of effective monitoring systems to track sodium levels in the diets of Canadians, and for the education of Canadians on the health risks of high dietary sodium and how to reduce consumption.
Other priorities cited include providing incentives to the food industry to slash salt levels, and ensuring health professionals understand the need to reduce dietary sodium and educate their membership about health risks and how to reduce intake.
According to the US Dietary Guidelines, over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed food.
Published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), these guidelines suggest that young adults should limit their daily sodium intake to 2,300mg. This is significantly lower than the 3,400mg actually consumed, according to the latest data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
FDA has conceded that salt is a major concern for health groups and organizations, leading it to accept this re-examination of its current position on the ingredient.
FDA said it is also interested in discussions regarding other potential approaches for reducing salt intake.
Some of the questions the agency has put up for discussion this week include whether a food additive regulation could be constructed to prescribe limitations for uses of salt, and if so, how the regulation might be constructed.
In addition, the agency wants to know if reducing salt levels could have any impact on the safety or quality of products.
It is also calling for comments on the labeling of salt on foods.