Sixteen leading foodservice companies, including several restaurant brands, have formally committed to the initiative, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other officials announced Monday. The brands include fast casuals Au Bon Pain and Starbucks, pizza chain Uno Chicago Grill and quick-service chain Subway, as well as other foodservice companies such as Boar's Head, FreshDirect, Goya, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft, LiDestri, Mars Food, McCain Foods, Red Gold, Unilever and White Rose.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative partnership now includes 18 national health organizations plus 29 cities, states and related entities.
"By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible; setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction," said Mayor Bloomberg in a news release. "The National Salt Reduction Initiative has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives that otherwise would be lost to cardiovascular disease in coming years."
Executives from the foodservice companies also expressed their support.
"Reducing sodium in our food is a commitment we have made for our restaurants globally," said Subway corporate dietitian Lanette Kovachi. "We are proud to partner with the National Salt Reduction Initiative. It will provide an important barometer to help us measure the progress we are making."
Voluntary sodium reduction
The recommended daily limit for sodium intake is 1,500 mg for most adults and 2,300 mg for others. Americans consume roughly twice the recommended limit of salt each day, contributing to widespread high blood pressure and placing millions at risk of heart attack and stroke. The impetus for the initiative came as health advocates and nutritionists are concerned that only 11 percent of the sodium in American diets comes from saltshakers while nearly 80 percent is added to foods before they are sold.
The initiative's leaders are concerned that much of the salt in Americans' diets comes from breads, muffins and other foods that don't taste salty. Because salt levels can vary dramatically among popular products in the same category, such as breakfast cereals, the groups see an indication that lower levels are both technically feasible and commercially successful.
Companies that sign onto the initiative pledge that their overall sales in a given category will meet the relevant target for salt content, even if some individual products do not. A company selling three equally popular lines of crackers, for example, could keep one of them salty as long as its overall cracker sales met the target. The initiative's goal is for manufacturers and restaurants to work in tandem to reduce average salt content so that consumers will enjoy the health benefits without a noticeable difference in taste.
The program is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom, where food makers have reduced salt levels by 40 percent or more in some products. Canada, Australia, Finland, France, Ireland, and New Zealand also have launched national initiatives to help reduce the salt in food.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative received a great deal of support from philanthropists and donors, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Funding for the evaluation of population salt intake was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation, the National Association of County & City Health Officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The announcement follows the release of research from The NPD Group that found that while consumers are growing somewhat more concerned about sodium levels in their diet purchase of low-sodium and sodium-free content foods are declining.
On April 20, the Institute of Medicine released a report stressing the urgent need to reduce sodium intake in the United States along with its recommendation that the FDA use its regulatory authority to reduce salt in the nation's food supply.