NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2010

The federal government's health police are targeting salt, and as a result, a host of Southern specialties including country ham and bacon may be forever altered to make them less salty, less tasty -- and even less healthy (salt kills microbial organisms that cause lots of nasty diseases), says the Heartland Institute. 

According to Candace Cansler, director of the National Country Ham Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations require country hams to have at least 4 percent salt content.   Any less and the meat is subject to microbial contamination.  Cansler said the salt content of the average country ham is between 5 percent and 8 percent.  She said setting a maximum of 6 percent or 7 percent would not be impossible, but it would impose costs and complications on producers. 

  • Different hams absorb salt at different rates; if the USDA changes the salt charts, they will have to change the aging chart as well.
  • The longer a country ham ages, the saltier it gets; it would not be difficult to apply an upper salt limit to hams produced and sold locally, but a ceiling could complicate the production of hams targeted for export or import.
  • Additionally, an upper limit would restrict certain producers that use aging as a way to distinguish their hams from their competitors. 

If the government gets its way, North Carolinians, for example, can kiss their country hams, bacon and fresh Bright Leaf hot dogs goodbye.  These Southern specialties might not disappear altogether, but if the health agency's crusade against salt is successful, they never will taste the same again, says Sara Burrows, associate editor for the Carolina Journal. 

Moreover, there is great potential for a double health whammy here.  Not only would limiting salt content potentially make some pork products dangerous, observers also insist there is no evidence that restricting salt, in isolation, has any health benefits. 

Source: Rick Henderson, "The Salt Wars and Country Ham," Heartland Institute, May 19, 2010; and Sara Burrows, "Federal War on Salt Could Spoil Country Hams," Carolina Journal, May 13, 2010. 

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