WASHINGTON – Concerned that Americans are consuming salt at twice the recommended levels, a consumer group asked a federal court Thursday to force the government to regulate it.
More than two decades after a similar lawsuit was dismissed, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is trying again to get salt categorized as a food additive.
The change would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to regulate salt in food, whether through warnings on packages and menus or mandatory or voluntary limits. Salt is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA.
Too much salt causes about 150,000 early deaths every year, as sodium consumption contributes to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, the center said in a report released Thursday.
Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy at the Food Products Association, a trade group, said consumers already have enough information to make good choices about sodium. “Rather than additional government requirements, what is needed is consumer education,” he said.
A single teaspoon of table salt contains the government’s recommended daily dose – less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Yet most Americans eat, on average, at least twice that amount. Processed and restaurant foods account for the vast majority of sodium in the average American’s diet.
“There is no way the FDA can look at the science and say with a straight face that salt is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ ” CSPI general director Michael Jacobson said.
FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Quinn declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying, “We’re currently evaluating CSPI’s report on salt, including the recommendations it contains.”
The report suggests putting labels on the front of high-sodium products and requiring restaurant chains to disclose sodium content on menus. It also suggests Congress should consider taxing saltier foods.
The science center’s 1983 lawsuit was dismissed after the FDA argued that sodium labeling on packaged foods should be given time to work.
The new lawsuit says government efforts to reduce salt consumption have failed.