US plans drive to limit salt in foods - report

WASHINGTON, April 19 Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:00am EDT

WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are planning a push to gradually cut the amount of salt Americans consume, saying less sodium would reduce deaths from hypertension and heart disease, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The effort would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in processed foods, the newspaper reported. The plan is to be launched this year but officials have not set salt limits, the article said.

The government plans to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to ratchet down sodium consumption, the newspaper said, citing U.S. Food and Drug Administration sources.

U.S. researchers said in a recent study that working with the food industry to cut salt intake by nearly 10 percent could prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and strokes over several decades and save the U.S. government $32 billion in healthcare costs.

Eating too much salt is a major cause of high blood pressure, which the Institute of Medicine, one of the National Academies of Sciences, last week declared a "neglected disease" that costs the U.S. health system $73 billion a year.

The Post said the FDA, which regulates most processed foods, and the U.S. Agriculture Department, which oversees meat and poultry, would work together on the effort to reduce Americans' sodium consumption.

Manufacturers can now use as much salt as they like in products but they are required to report the amount on nutrition labels.

Many food makers have already begun to cut salt content.

In March, PepsiCo Inc PEP.N., which owns the Pepsi, Frito-Lay and Quaker brands, announced that it plans a reduction of 25 per cent in the average sodium per serving in major global food brands in key markets by 2015.

(Reporting by Joanne Allen, editing by Vicki Allen)

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