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Consumer group petitions USDA to limit sodium in meat and poultry products

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 by: Ben Kage
Tags: sodium, processed meats, salt

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(NewsTarget) Since excess salt can cause high blood pressure, heart attack and strokes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set maximum sodium levels for a variety of meat and poultry goods.

"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.," says the CSPI web site.

Fresh pork, beef and chicken are actually low in sodium, the CSPI says, until food manufacturers turn them into "enhanced" products that are swimming in salted water. An analysis of some food products conducted by the CSPI in 2005 found that the level of salt differs from product to product, and proves that the manufacturers could produce safe, competitive foods with much less salt, the group says.

"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," notes the site.

The FDA's recommended daily value of sodium is 2,400 milligrams and the Department of Health and Human Services' recommends no more than 1,500 per day for adults middle-aged or older, but even though makers of packaged foods have been required to list the sodium content on their foods since 1994, the average daily intake of salt is more like 3,400 milligrams, according to CSPI figures.

"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," CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson is quoted as saying. "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."

The impact of high sodium is seen in the health of Americans and the U.S. economy, the CSPI reveals. According to the group, high blood pressure afflicts roughly 65 million people nationwide, and blood pressure medications are costing them more than $15 billion annually. The amount that the government spends trying to persuade Americans, food manufacturers and restaurants to use less salt: almost nothing, the group says.

This is not the first petition the CSPI has drafted in order to lower average salt intakes. The FDA disregarded one CSPI petition for more than 20 years, theorizing that the industry would lower salt levels of its own accord, the site states. The group also sent a petition to the FDA in November 2005, asking it to stop listing salt as "generally recognized as safe" and to apply the more stringent food additive regulations to it instead.

"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."


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