The consumer health group is calling for the FDA to revoke the 'generally recognized as safe' (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, is the latest move by the CSPI to slash the nation's salt consumption in an effort to reduce the negative health impacts of excessive sodium intake. These include an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease, the world's number one killer.
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).
Over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed food, claims a CSPI report published in February.
"Unfortunately, except for a very small number of healthy choice-type foods, sodium levels in everything from bread, to canned tomatoes, to salad dressings ranges from high to extremely high," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
According to the CSPI, the FDA's position on salt level regulations over the past 25 years has been characterised by "false starts and foot-dragging."
Indeed, the latest petition by the CSPI is nothing new. The group had first petitioned the FDA to reclassify salt from GRAS to food additive status in 1978. In 1982, the FDA deferred action on the GRAS status, instead amending its labeling regulations to encourage the voluntary labelling of sodium content, in the hope that this would reduce levels of salt in processed food.
"The agency wishes to emphasize that if there is no substantial reduction in the sodium content of processed foods and if the information on sodium labeling is not adopted after a reasonable time period, FDA will consider additional regulatory options, including proposing a change in salt's GRAS status," the FDA had said in 1982.
Indeed, regulations did not stipulate that salt had to be listed on food labels until 1994, when the FDA implemented the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.
In September this year, the FDA published a final rule on how much sodium can be in a food that carries a 'healthy' claim on its label, limiting this to 480 mg per serving for individual foods and 600 mg per serving for meals and dishes.
In its latest petition, the CSPI claimed that an analysis it carried out on 550 food items found "dramatic variations in salt content -which means that many companies could use less salt without it affecting taste."