By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States moved on Wednesday to cut the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food in a bid to reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes linked to consuming too much sodium.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidelines for major food manufacturers and big chain restaurants that are aimed at reducing salt in foods such as soup, pizza, deli meat, dips, hamburgers, baked goods, snack foods and more.
The agency's move is aimed at lowering the average American's salt consumption by a third, saying people in the United States consume almost 50 percent more sodium than recommended by most experts.
Many U.S. food companies, including Campbell Soup Co <CPB.N>, General Mills Inc <GIS.N> and Kraft Heinz Co <KHC.O>, have already cut salt levels to some extent in anticipation of the guidelines, which have been in the works since 2011.
The FDA proposed a daily sodium intake target of 2,300 milligrams a day, down from the current average adult intake of about 3,400 milligrams a day.
The agency will discuss the draft with the public and industry before making the guidelines final, and that daily target may be modified.
"Like others inside and outside of government, we believe additional work is needed to determine the acceptable range of sodium intake for optimal health," said Leon Bruner, chief science officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry's biggest lobbying organization.
"This evaluation should include research that indicates health risks for people who consume too much sodium as well as health risks from consuming too little sodium," Bruner added.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf acknowledged on a conference call with reporters that there is controversy about the impact of sodium on health and what levels are considered safe for public health, but said the agency's goal is to get the overall salt intake down to "reasonable levels."
Different food categories will have different targets, and some products have more room for reductions than others. The agency singled out salad dressing as an example, saying the amount of sodium ranges from 150 mg per hundred grams to more than 2,000. Wheat bread ranges from 220 mg to 671 mg, it said.
Increased sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, two major causes of death in the United States. (http://1.usa.gov/282RWBD)
About half the money spent by Americans on food goes toward food eaten outside the home, according to government figures.
The guidelines were issued less than two weeks after the FDA said it planned a major overhaul of the way packaged foods are labeled to reflect the amount of added sugar and specific serving sizes.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington and Amrutha Penumudi in Bengaluru; Editing by Will Dunham)