The ‘War On Salt’ Is Bad Policy Based on Bad Science

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the few openly authoritarian organizations functioning in the United States, once sued the Food and Drug Administration for refusing to regulate Americans’ salt intake. No worries. This week, the Obama administration finally embraced CSPI’s junk science and allowed the FDA to set new “guidelines” to “nudge” companies into treating a perfectly harmless ingredient as if it were a dangerous chemical.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell explained that pressuring private companies into lowering sodium levels is “about putting power back in the hands of consumers.” Of course, consumers already have an array of bland, low-sodium choices, if they desire. But in progressive-speak, limiting choices is tantamount to attaining power. According to our government, consumers having too many choices means “the deck has been stacked against them.”

The good news is that the FDA is almost always wrong about everything. The bad news is that these guidelines set an incredibly ridiculous precedent that allows our intrusive government to mislead Americans with bad advice.

But let’s concede for a moment and say that sodium is killing you.

If you’re one of those last starry-eyed idealists, you may ask yourself: “What governing principle empowers the Obama administration to launch crusades that ensure every citizen is living salubriously? What principle authorizes the state to control how salty my soup is?” Life is a killer, after all. If Washington, D.C. can regulate the amount of ingredients in foods — not poisonous ingredients, or instantaneously unhealthy ingredients or even hidden ingredients, but ingredients that the CSPI has decided to whine about — what can’t it regulate? And if salt is worthy of all this attention, why is the Obama administration allowing citizens to commit mass suicidal acts by ingesting sugar? Or dairy? Or bleached white flour? Or canola oil?

“Americans need to reduce their sodium intake to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke,” explained CSPI President Michael F. Jacobson to ABC News after the FDA released its memo. “If companies achieved the FDA’s proposed targets, it would have a huge benefit for the public’s health. If companies don’t achieve these voluntary targets, it would be clear that mandatory limits will be necessary to reach safe sodium levels.”

Now, you may ask yourself, “Who the hell is Michael F. Jacobson to tell me what I need to do?” Well, Jacobson’s organization, meticulously debunked since 1971, now says that if you don’t do something voluntarily then the government has the duty to force you, which sounds about right these days on almost every front.

But, setting all that aside, what happens if salt isn’t even bad for you? What if CSPI is wrong, as usual? What if the FDA is pushing flawed science and compelling companies to engage in practices that will do nothing to improve public health? What if these practices end up hurting people?

Not long ago, a meta-analysis of seven studies in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that reduced sodium intake lowers the risk for strokes, heart attacks or death for people with normal or high blood pressure. Some studies, in fact, found that salt has beneficial effects. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association, which followed 3,700 healthy people for eight years, found similar benefits.

A couple of years ago, Scientific American magazine reported that “meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure.”

Obviously, there is still disagreement over what these studies mean. But, surely, the FDA has no business authorizing a position on salt when a definitive one has not been reached in the scientific community. “The science is uncertain,” Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told USA Today this week. “If you’re in the general population, I can’t support the widespread recommendation to reduce sodium intake.”

Now, I get that this saves Americans the bother of thinking or acting for themselves, which is how we like it. Americans want to label everything and be warned about all things. All things. A new study by The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal found that 80 percent of people surveyed want labels on food containing DNA. The number is nearly the same as those who support labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, which have been found to be about as dangerous as DNA.

No doubt, if we asked people about salt, we’d see similar reactions. Generally, though, those who want to be healthy use the tools they have, and others do not. For those who care, for instance, the FDA just updated the “Nutritional Facts” label on most packaged foods. It’s one thing to try and ensure more transparency, and it’s another for the government to solidify bad science and engage in needlessly intrusive policies that attempt to dictate what we can eat.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.” Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.

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