New York City to Nudge Food Companies to Lower Salt Nationwide

CSPI Praises Move and Urges Industry to Cooperate

January 11, 2010

WASHINGTON—The single most dangerous ingredient in the food supply is salt, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which today praised New York City health officials for pressuring food companies to reduce salt levels in packaged foods and restaurant meals by 25 percent over the next five years. CSPI called New York's program "smart, sophisticated, and timely."

Too much salt in the diet is a major contributor to hypertension, stroke, heart and kidney disease, and other ailments. Starting in 1978, CSPI has been urging the Food and Drug Administration to use its regulatory authority to treat salt, or sodium chloride, as a food additive, as opposed to classifying it as an ingredient that is "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS. CSPI filed lawsuits against the FDA in 1982 and in 2005 to try to compel it to take action, and later in 2005 filed a regulatory petition which asked the agency to set maximum levels of salt in various categories of food. The agency held a public hearing in 2007 but hasn’t taken any action since.

"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 F. 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."

Seventy percent of the population—a group that includes the elderly, African Americans, and people with existing high blood pressure—should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the federal government. Everyone else should limit themselves to 2,300 mg per day. But according to CSPI, average sodium intake is actually north of 4,000 mg per day. In May CSPI identified a number of popular chain restaurant meals that provide 5,000, 6,000, or 7,000 mg of sodium.

Reducing sodium by 25 percent over the next 5 years could also save the federal government billions in direct medical expenditures, according to CSPI.

New York City similarly helped spur nationwide changes in the food industry when it became the first jurisdiction to require calories on chain restaurant menus, and to phase out the use of artificial trans fats in all restaurants.


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