WASHINGTON — The Institute of Medicine’s (I.O.M.) recent recommendations to increase the availability of reduced-sodium foods is consistent with the meat industry's current efforts to reduce the amount of sodium used in processed products, said the American Meat Institute (A.M.I.).
Although fresh, unprocessed meat and poultry products are naturally low in sodium, sodium is added to processed products to enhance flavor, texture and extend shelf-life.
“Providing more reduced-sodium options is an important goal that is consistent with national public-health efforts,” said Betsy Booren, Ph.D., A.M.I. director of scientific affairs. “However, it is not as easy as simply adding a few less shakes to a product.”
Manufacturers must carefully weigh palatability issues, safety concerns and long-established taste preferences, Ms. Booren cautioned. “It’s important to produce reduced-sodium products that are safe and acceptable,” she added. “If consumers don’t like the taste and texture, the salt shaker is just a reach away. And, of course, we must use extreme caution in reducing any ingredient that could potentially impact the safety of our products.”
The I.O.M. recommended changing sodium's G.R.A.S. (generally recognized as safe) status, which allows an ingredient to be used in foods without special approval, also concerns Ms. Booren. While the I.O.M. recommended only that the G.R.A.S. status be modified, Ms. Booren warns that no longer granting the status would be detrimental.
“Suggesting that salt should no longer have G.R.A.S. status sends conflicting information because salt helps make food safe,” she said. “It also is essential to health, though it must be eaten in moderation.”
If G.R.A.S. status were removed, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) would need to embark upon a lengthy, painstaking process to set individual sodium levels for thousands of food products – a process that could take years and consume valuable resources when voluntary efforts are already under way, Ms. Booren said.
“Many companies are actively engaged in a step-wise reformulation so that consumers can gradually become accustomed to the taste of lower-sodium products,” she added. “Let’s allow reformulation efforts to work before doing something as dramatic and as massive in regulatory resources as revoking salt’s G.R.A.S. status.”
Education efforts designed to help consumers understand how to make better use of nutrition information are prudent, Ms. Booren said, but she questions the degree to which the government should engage in efforts that limit personal choices by regulating sodium levels in products.
“If a consumer genuinely enjoys a saltier product like pickles, pretzels or country ham on occasion, is it really appropriate for the government to regulate these products’ distinct tastes away?” she concluded.