SOME SEGMENTS of the food industry think that the sodium question is on the minds of enough Americans to make it worth their while to do something about it.
Jewel Foods, a large chain in the Chicago area, has just announced a line of house-brand no-sodium foods. And General Foods is putting the sodium content on the labels of all its products that contain more than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving. Some of those products are already appearing in the stores.
Testifying before a House science and technology subcommittee, Paul Hopper, scientific director of General Foods, said there is a general consensus of scientific opinion regarding the relationship between hypertension and high sodium intake and enough "interest expressed in correspondence from our consumers" so that his company will provide information on sodium content along with its regular nutrition labeling.
Sodium chloride is the constitutent in salt that is linked to high blood pressure. There are 2,300 milligrams of sodium in each teaspoon of salt. Two thousand milligrams of sodium per day is the maximum most health care professionals recommend for the average person.
At the hearings earlier this week, the majority of the scientific testimony was in agreement that the link between hypertension and sodium is strong enough to make labeling worthwhile, though not everyone agreed that the amount of sodium in processed foods should be reduced or that overall consumption of sodium should be decreased.
One witness said there is no link at all between sodium and hypertension. Several said the government shouldn't be in the business of dictating how much salt can be put in food.
But Jewel Foods, the supermarket chain that introduced the highly successful concept of generic labeling, is pioneering with house brands of canned fruits and vegetables marked "no salt added," "no sugar added" and "no sugar or salt added." The no-salt-added products are two kinds of green beans, beets, corn, mixed vegetables and peas. They are packed in water without salt.
Jewel is selling these products for the same price as their regular canned counterparts.
At the hearing, Jane Armstrong, Jewel's vice president for consumer affairs, told subcommittee chairman Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) that regular canned peas contain 295 mg. of sodium per half-cup; fresh cooked peas contain about 1 mg. and the no-salt-added peas contain 6 mg. per serving.
The Food and Drug Administration, once in favor of mandatory sodium labeling of processed foods, has had a change of heart under the new administration. Both FDA and USDA are now in favor of voluntary labeling. FDA said it will work with manufacturers to encourage them to use less salt.
Testimony at the hearings indicated that, so far, about 1,600 of the 500,000 processed food items on the market have sodium labeling.