Federal Effort to Commandeer the Nation's Salt Shakers Is Based on Bad Science

December 5, 2011

Last year, the government's Institute of Medicine urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to "gradually step down the maximum amount of salt that can be added to foods, beverages, and meals."  The FDA is listening.  In September, it published a notice concerning issues "associated with the development of targets for sodium reduction in foods to promote reduction of excess sodium intake," says Steve Chapman, a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

It is currently focusing on voluntary steps to "promote gradual, achievable and sustainable reduction of sodium intake over time."  But if it doesn't get its way, it may go beyond gentle encouragement.  "Nothing is off the table," a spokesperson declared last year.

  • Salt has always been prized as a culinary marvel -- perking up flavors, masking bitter elements and preventing spoilage.
  • But many experts and public health organizations see salt as a killer, which in excess amounts causes high blood pressure and heart disease.

But experts' certitude keeps getting clouded by confounding evidence.

  • The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that people who consume less salt are actually more likely to die of heart disease.
  • Recently, a study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that reducing dietary sodium can cause a harmful response from the body.

Nor is it clear that third parties can get people to reduce their ingestion of sodium.  We have been hearing for decades about the alleged hazards of a high-salt diet, and anyone looking for alternatives can easily find them.  But today, Americans consume the same amount of salt as they did 50 years ago.

But even if we assume too much salt is a bad thing, federal regulators have no grounds to dictate how much our food may contain.  Any consumers who want less sodium, after all, are free to spurn restaurant meals and grocery items laden with heavy doses.  Indeed, classifying excess sodium consumption as a "public health" danger mutilates a useful concept, says Chapman.

Source: Steve Chapman, "Federal Effort to Commandeer the Nation's Salt Shakers Is Based on Bad Science," Reason Magazine, December 1, 2011.

For text:

http://reason.com/archives/2011/12/01/federal-effort-to-commandeer-the-nations

 

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