The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been petitioned to set limits on the levels of salt that can be used in meat and poultry products.
Filed by consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the citizen petition comes just over a year after the group petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke the 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) status of salt.
According to CSPI's latest petition, the wide variations in the amounts of salt found in different brands of similar meat and poultry products "clearly demonstrate that - without affecting the safety of the food - it is feasible for the firms making high-sodium products to lower sodium levels and still have tasty products that would be competitive in the market place."
Excess sodium has been shown to increase the chance of developing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. And according to the American Medical Association, most Americans consume two to three times the amount of sodium that is healthy, with an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the daily intake of sodium coming from processed and restaurant foods. Although the battle to reduce salt in foods has so far remained voluntary, many food makers, such as General Mills and Campbell, have responded to growing consumer and regulatory concern with reformulation efforts.
The USDA already sets ceilings on numerous ingredients used in the preparation of meat and poultry products - such as citric acid, sodium citrate, potassium lactate, calcium lactate, sodium lactate, tocopherol, sodium caseinate, dry or dried whey, ascorbic acid, and sodium ascorbate - even though the FDA says those ingredients are GRAS, said CSPI in its petition.
In addition, the regulatory agency already has a ceiling on the amount of salt that can be used in chilling raw poultry products.
"USDA already has extensive regulations governing the makeup of processed meat and poultry products, which set nutritional standards such as limits on fat content for some products, and limits on various preservatives or additives in others," said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson.
"The agency should set similar reasonable limits for sodium chloride," he said, adding that at the levels it is currently consumed, salt may be the "single most dangerous ingredient in the food supply".
In November 2005, CSPI petitioned the FDA to revoke the GRAS status of salt in a move to force food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels in processed foods.
The petition, which was backed by organizations including the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association, requested that salt should be treated as a food additive for the purposes of regulation, with strict limits placed on the sodium content of processed foods.
According to dietary guidelines issued in January by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), young adults should limit their daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg. This is significantly lower than the 3,400mg actually consumed, according to the latest data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).