NEW YORK — Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Food, Au Bon Pain and Subway are among the 16 companies that have committed to the National Salt Reduction Initiative — a public-private partnership created to reduce sodium by 25% in packaged and restaurant foods by 2014.
The effort is being led by New York City and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley. New York City began coordinating the voluntary effort two years ago.
“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,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “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.”
The National Salt Reduction Initiative partnership now includes 18 national health organizations; 29 cities, states and related entities; and some of the nation's leading food companies, including Au Bon Pain, Boar’s Head, FreshDirect, Goya, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft, LiDestri, Mars Food, McCain Foods, Red Gold, Starbucks, Subway, Unilever, Uno Chicago Grill and White Rose.
“Reducing salt intake has been a public health priority for decades,” Mr. Farley said. “We can now say we are taking the first steps to achieve it. This was made possible because of agencies and organizations that have joined to make this a truly national initiative, and we especially thank this group of companies that are leading the food industry toward a healthier food supply. We look forward to expanding the industry’s participation in this vital public health effort.”
The announcement comes less than a week after the Institute of Medicine released a report stressing the need to reduce sodium intake in the United States. The report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration use its regulatory authority to reduce salt in the nation’s food supply, but it also noted that public-private partnerships may “achieve meaningful reductions in sodium intake prior to the implementation of mandatory standards.”
According to the New York City government, the National Salt Reduction Initiative will monitor sodium levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food. The 16 companies have committed to reducing sodium in 49 of the National Salt Reduction Initiative packaged food categories and 15 of the restaurant categories.
“We applaud New York City for bringing greater focus to the need for sodium reduction in American diets,” said Rhonda Jordan, president of Health & Wellness, Kraft Foods. “We believe that this public and transparent voluntary program can truly benefit both the food industry and consumers. We fully support the intent of the National Salt Reduction Initiative because we share the goal of reduced sodium and have been working to lower sodium in our products for several years.”
Kraft said its plans to reduce sodium in a number of products by more than the 10% average. As an example, the company said it plans to reduce sodium in some flavors of Easy Mac Cups by 20% and in Oscar Mayer Turkey in a resealable pouch by at least 30%.
On the food service front, Subway has met the target for chicken and fish sandwiches as well as for pizza, and said it expects to reach the targeted level for cookies by 2012 and 2014. Au Bon Pain, meanwhile, already has met restaurant targets for soup and chicken and fish sandwiches, and said it’s on pace to achieve targeted sodium levels for its breakfast sandwiches not on a biscuit and sweet yeast bread by 2012 and 2014.
“We were on board with the N.S.R.I.’s guidelines from their initial work over a year ago,” said Sue Morelli, president and chief executive officer of Au Bon Pain. “We have already used the guidelines to make great progress with sodium levels in our chicken and several of our soup varieties and are committed to making further progress well ahead of the 2012 timelines.”
The National Salt Reduction Initiative is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom, where food makers have reduced salt levels by 40% or more in some products. Canada, Australia, Finland, France, Ireland, and New Zealand also have launched national programs.