USDA Urged to Limit Sodium in Meat and Poultry Foods
Americans' Salt Intake Far Exceeds Government Recommendations
WASHINGTON— Too much salt in the diet is a major contributor to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and almost all Americans consume far much more sodium than is recommended. So today the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish maximum levels of sodium in various categories of meat and poultry products. According to leading sodium researchers, halving the salt content in processed and restaurant foods would save 150,000 lives a year in the U.S.
While fresh beef, pork, chicken and turkey are naturally low in sodium, many processors sell so-called “enhanced” products which are essentially marinated in salt water. While different brands of processed products, such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, hot dogs and frozen dinners, may appear extremely similar, the sodium content often varies widely from brand to brand, according to a 2005 analysis by CSPI. Those ranges show that manufacturers of high-sodium products could reduce salt while still marketing safe, tasty and competitive products.
For example, a 3-link serving of Johnsonville Original breakfast sausage has 610 mg of sodium, or 95 percent more sodium than Jimmy Dean Pork Original. Tyson Fresh Tenderloin Pork contains 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, or 575 percent more than IBP Supreme Lean Pork (50 mg). Marvel Prime Young Turkey Breast (frozen) has 490 mg, or 780 percent more sodium than Shady Brook Farms Fresh Natural Young Turkey Breast (60 mg).
Despite the 1994 requirement that packaged foods disclose sodium content, the average daily intake of sodium has remained at about 3,400 milligrams—far higher than the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “Daily Value” of 2,400 milligrams and the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of 1,500 milligrams for middle-aged and older adults.
“USDA already has extensive regulations governing the makeup of processed meat and poultry products, which set nutritional standards such as limits on fat content for some products, and limits on various preservatives or additives in others,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, PhD. “The agency should set similar reasonable limits for sodium chloride, which, at the levels consumed, might just be the single most dangerous ingredient in the food supply.”
About 65 million Americans have high blood pressure, and some 45 million more have pre-hypertension. Americans now spend more than $15 billion a year on blood pressure medications, but the government spends almost nothing encouraging Americans to cut back on salt or encouraging food manufacturers and restaurateurs to reduce salt levels in foods.
In November 2005, CSPI petitioned the FDA to revoke salt’s status as a “generally recognized as safe” ingredient and instead to treat it as a food additive, which are subject to more stringent regulations, including limits on its use. A previous CSPI filing was ignored by the agency for more than 20 years, on the theory that the industry would voluntarily lower salt levels.
“Overly salty processed foods are turning Americans’ hearts into ticking time bombs, yet top policymakers at the FDA are doing nothing,” Jacobson said. “USDA should take the lead and not wait for the slowpokes at the FDA, who apparently would rather focus on expediting the latest expensive new drug therapy for high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease, instead of actually preventing those conditions in the first place.”
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).