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AMI Says Institute of Medicine Recommendations to Expand Reduced Sodium Food Options is Consistent With Efforts Already Under Way Voluntarily by U.S. Meat and Poultry Industry

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
 

Washington, D.C. --The American Meat Institute (AMI) said that the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendations today to increase the availability of reduced sodium foods is consistent with efforts already under way by the meat industry to offer more reduced sodium processed products. 

Fresh, unprocessed meat and poultry products are naturally low in sodium.  Sodium is added to processed products to add flavor, improve texture and enhance shelf life.  Sodium also plays an important role in food safety.  In fact, salt was originally used to preserve meats before refrigeration and continues to play a key role in preventing bacterial growth and spoilage. 

“Providing more reduced sodium options is an important goal that is consistent with national public health efforts,” AMI Director of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren, Ph.D., said.  “However, it is not as easy as simply adding a few less shakes to a product.”

According to Booren, manufacturers must carefully weigh palatability issues, safety concerns and long-established taste preferences.  “It’s important to produce reduced sodium products that are safe and acceptable,” she noted.  “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.”

Booren also expressed strong concern about an IOM recommendation to change salt’s long-established GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, which allows an ingredient to be used in foods without seeking special permission.  “Suggesting that salt should no longer have GRAS status sends conflicting information because salt helps make food safe.  It also is essential to health, though it must be eaten in moderation,” she said. Booren also noted that if GRAS status were removed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would need to embark upon a lengthy and 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.

“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 said.  “Let’s allow reformulation efforts to work before doing something as dramatic and as massive in regulatory resources as revoking salt’s GRAS status.”

Booren said education efforts designed to help consumers understand how to make better use of nutrition information are prudent, but questioned 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?”

In connection with news related to sodium, AMI released a new consumer video about the role of sodium in meat products.  It may be viewed at www.YouTube.com/meatnewsnetwork

Reporters may also wish to view AMI’s Sodium fact sheet, available at http://ow.ly/1BbCu

 

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