Today's FDA Hearing To Focus On Sodium Content In Food

Move over, fat and pharmaceuticals--there's a new player on the block that may be getting some further oversight: sodium.

The Food and Drug Administration today will hold a public hearing on the amount of sodium in packaged and processed foods. The hearing is a result of continued lobbying by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and is supported by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The governmental hearing comes after the FDA and the GMA held a joint conference last month on the issue of dietary sodium.

"Sodium has a status of generally being recognized as safe," Julie Greenstein, deputy director of health promotion policy for CSPI, tells Marketing Daily. "[Yet,] in almost every food product, it's higher than it has to be."

Sodium has long been recognized as a factor in causing or exacerbating high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. If Americans reduced their sodium consumption to half of today's levels, about 150,000 lives could be saved, Greenstein says.

According to the CSPI, the average American sodium intake is 4,000 milligrams a day--about twice the recommended daily allowance. "We'd like to see foods that are really high in salt to be labeled that way," Greenstein says. "When consumers see 450 milligrams of sodium on a package, they don't know what that means."

Food companies have been manufacturing low-sodium food--and labeling it as such--for some time. And as food marketers have come under increased scrutiny over obesity, they have also looked at the sodium content of their foods. Kellogg's, for instance, listed a high-sodium content as a factor in barring some of its food products as suitable to be advertised to children.

"Many companies have been working on this issue for years--about how to lower sodium content and maintain taste," says Dan Jaffe, executive vice president/government relations for the Association of National Advertisers--adding that the ANA has no position on the upcoming sodium hearing.

While the CSPI expects food manufacturers and the salt industry to oppose any increased labeling measures, a representative from Kraft Foods says the company is not expected to attend the hearings--adding that no regulation has been proposed. She referred calls to the GMA, whose executives were not available for comment prior to the hearings.

A ConAgra representative said the company was "committed to lowering" the sodium content in its foods, and pointed to its Healthy Choice product line as an example of such commitment. The company is expected to make a presentation at today's hearing.

Tags: food
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