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For example, the FDA recommends that the bakery industry cut salt across various types of bread and that the seafood industry reduce salt in escargot and caviar. Frozen food makers are being asked to slash sodium across foods like tater tots and corn dogs.

The goal is to slowly dial down the sodium used across the American food supply so consumers’ palates can adjust to eating less salt over time.

Background: The move to formally urge less salt in processed foods has been in the works at FDA through several administrations, Democrat and Republican, but has faced numerous delays after some corners of the food industry fought the policy.

The FDA first released draft voluntary sodium reduction goals in 2016, amid the Obama administration’s broader push to encourage better nutrition and combat childhood obesity. At the time, the agency noted that the average person consumed about 3,400 milligrams a day in sodium. The agency advised people to cut that back by one-third to meet federal dietary recommendations — to 2,300 mg a day, or about one teaspoon.

The government estimates that about 70 percent of the sodium Americans eat comes from sodium added during food processing and commercial food preparation.

During the Trump administration, then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb surprised some by sticking to the Obama administration’s push to limit salt. In 2018, Gottlieb said there’s “no single more effective public health action related to nutrition than the reduction of sodium in the diet.”

Health effects: Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases risk of heart attacks and strokes. According to the FDA, 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 10 children has high blood pressure — health officials on Wednesday said 95 percent of children aged 2 to 13 are “far exceeding” the recommended sodium intake. In 2019, high blood pressure contributed to the deaths of 516,955 people in the U.S.

“We know that even these modest reductions, made slowly over the next few years, will substantially decrease nutrition-related diseases, make for a healthier population overall and lower the burden of health care costs in this country,” said Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The government and health advocates have argued that cutting sodium intake can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs.

Cheering less salt: Health advocates lauded the FDA’s announcement, even as they called on the agency to go further.

The American Heart Association called the announcement “an important step forward,” while also contending it was “not enough” to only seek a 12 percent cut to salt intake when Americans are on average consuming roughly 50 percent more sodium than the government recommends.

Some food industry leaders also praised the new policy, recognizing that many consumers are seeking out healthier options and support lowering sodium stealthily.

For example, Mars, which makes brands like Ben’s Original and Tasty Bite, has long supported FDA’s salt reduction efforts, even when many other major food companies were lobbying against the policy.

The company said Wednesday that it is “very happy” to see the targets released. Mars is aiming to cut sodium by an average of 45 percent in most of its products, with virtually all of its products meeting or exceeding FDA’s short-term targets by 2025.

What’s next: The FDA released finalized reduction targets for the next two and a half years. Agency officials said they would be closely monitoring the food industry’s progress and plan to set stricter voluntary targets in the future.

“We plan this to be an iterative process, to keep reducing the targets,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. The goal is to eventually get American consumers below the federal recommended guidance, but to do it slowly over time, officials said.

Agency leaders declined to say whether they would consider mandatory sodium reduction targets if the food industry doesn’t make enough progress cutting salt from their products in the next few years.



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