US food manufacturers said today (11 January) that they backed plans to cut the level of salt eaten by consumers – but said lowering the risk of heart disease needed more than targeting one nutrient.
Packaged food makers are facing pressure to cut the levels of salt in the foods they sell after officials in New York City announced plans to push for a 25% cut over the next five years.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced plans for a “voluntary reduction” in packaged and restaurant foods.
Officials said the scheme, designed to cut salt in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food, would reduce the nation’s intake by 20% and prevent thousands of premature deaths.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said it “supports and shares” New York City’s “fundamental objective” to lower the salt intake.
“We believe that meaningful long-term reductions will be needed and incremental, short-term reductions can be accomplished,” said Robert Brackett, the GMA’s chief science and regulatory affairs officer.
However, Brackett said food makers in the US had been “very successful” in making “incremental reductions” in the levels of salt in food.
“Many food companies have reformulated products or reduced the use of sodium in processed foods. Processing and packaging technologies also allow for less salt or sodium,” Brackett said.
Excessive salt in food is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease but Brackett said improving health will need more action than focusing on salt. He called for a “holistic approach” to cut the risks associated with cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
“The emphasis should be on helping to reduce obesity through improved energy balance and dietary patterns that are consistent with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. This will result in reduced sodium as well as a lower risk for chronic disease,” Brackett said.
A leading US consumer watchdog praised the New York City plans. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called the programme “smart, sophisticated and timely”.
“Reducing sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods could save thousands of lives a year in New York City alone,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson.
“Food companies should cooperate with New York City authorities and set achievable targets to reduce salt nationwide. If companies don’t cooperate, they can certainly expect other state and local governments, and perhaps at long last, the Food and Drug Administration, to begin regulating in this area.”