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Consumer group urging FDA to drop sodium’s status as 'safe'

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December 15, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC—In comments filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the nation’s oldest consumer organization is strongly urging the government to revoke sodium’s long-standing status as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), a strong action geared toward reducing expected to reduce Americans’ sodium consumption.

“The fact is, most Americans are taking in far too much sodium, at a detriment to their health. The average American consumes 3,400 mg of salt per day, far above the recommended levels,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, which filed comments with the federal agencies this week. “While the reformulation of ready-to-eat foods to reduce sodium content is also a crucial step for industry to take, it is time for the federal government to step in and send the message that Americans need to take their sodium consumption seriously.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily intake of 2,300 mg of sodium. For nearly 50 percent of Americans, especially including those over the age of 50, African Americans, and those with certain chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, the recommended daily amount is even lower at 1,500 mg per day. Heightened levels of sodium consumption can have serious health consequences. A diet high in sodium has been linked to increased blood pressure, which in turn can lead to a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.

“Consuming too much sodium has real health consequences. Luckily, simply lowering the amount of sodium in your diet can help combat these effects,” said Greenberg.

Unfortunately, with 77 percent of the sodium Americans consume coming from processed and restaurant foods, reducing sodium consumption can be challenging for many consumers. “With so much salt already added into ready-to-eat foods, simply going a little lighter on the salt shaker will not solve the problem,” Greenberg added. “We have to reduce the amount of salt found in processed and restaurant foods in order to decrease overall sodium consumption.” Reformulation of products, so that they include less sodium to begin with, is a critical step in this process.

While reformulation is a step that will be undertaken by food companies, unfortunately the industry has not voluntarily reduced sodium levels in restaurant or prepared foods, thus we turn tot he FDA to help make progress in reducing sodium levels. Wwe do not believe that an issue this important to public health should be left up the industry,” said Greenberg.  “That is why we are suggesting that FDA take action and revoke sodium’s GRAS status.

With the GRAS status of sodium rescinded, FDA would have the authority to determine maximum allowable amounts of salt in processed and restaurant foods. This would serve as a catalyst for industry reformulation efforts.  FDA has stated that it would be willing to revoke the GRAS status of salt if the food industry did not make a “substantial reduction in the sodium content of processed foods.” Since industry efforts have not yet been enough to curb sodium consumption, NCL strongly supports the revocation of sodium’s GRAS status.

“This is a nationwide problem with significant health consequences. Reducing the amount of sodium in our diets will help reduce the incidence of certain chronic, costly diseases. It is essential that the government take action to facilitate this process,” said Greenberg.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.