IDFA Vice President Cary Frye was one of 16 speakers to present oral comments at the public meeting on sodium reduction held last Thursday in Silver Spring, Md. The meeting, which drew more than 300 participants, was sponsored by several federal agencies to gain an informed perspective of the challenges and opportunities related to reducing sodium levels in the American diet.
The meeting's sponsors – the Food and Drug Administration, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and Agricultural Research Service – acknowledged the complexities of reducing sodium in food and recognized the ongoing efforts by restaurants and food manufacturers to tackle the issue. Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at FDA, and Janey Thornton, under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA, kicked off the all-day meeting.
Frye began her comments by noting that milk, yogurt and ice cream have naturally low levels of sodium, but salt is an integral part of the cheesemaking process. Before outlining the industry's efforts and challenges, she emphasized the important role that cheese plays in a healthy diet.
"Cheese only accounts for 7.8 percent of the sodium in the diet, yet cheese provides an important source of key nutrients, including 21 percent of calcium, 11 percent of phosphorus and nine percent of protein and vitamin A in the diet today," Frye said.
Successes and Challenges
She highlighted some successes, such as new offerings of natural cheese at retail with 25 percent less sodium and reduced-fat, lower-sodium processed cheese for commodity purchase for school meals, but she emphasized that flavor, functionality and safety challenges remain for other natural and process cheeses. To reinforce the industry's voluntary efforts to make changes, she mentioned the task force convened by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to identify solutions for reducing sodium that can be applied across the entire cheese industry.
Representatives from Walmart, McDonald's, Kraft Foods, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association also joined scientists, health professionals and consumer groups in presenting their views on approaches for promoting sodium reduction.
Frye and Michelle Matto, IDFA's nutrition and labeling consultant, each attended two of the four breakout sessions. The sessions focused on:
- technical challenges of reducing sodium in processed foods;
- ways to monitor the sodium intake of consumers;
- how stakeholders can meet voluntary targets without federal requirements; and
- how best to communicate to consumers.
"The wide variety of presentations and comments made during breakout sessions demonstrated just how hugely complex this issue is, especially from a scientific point of view," Frye said. "The agencies know there are no easy solutions, and our comments helped to reinforce the dairy industry's commitment to pursuing changes on a voluntary basis."
Written comments are due by November 29. More information on the meeting is available here.
IDFA plans to hold a conference call with members to discuss the topic and consider a draft set of comments. Members interested in participating may contact Matto at email@example.com.