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FDA Plans to Force a National Salt Cutback

2:50 PM, Apr 20, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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To use one of the president's favorite words, this expansion of the Nanny State is unprecedented. The federal agency believes that, without further authorization from Congress, it can go ahead and take charge of our palates.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

"Work with" is a bit of a euphemism, coming from a government agency that is planning to outlaw certain levels of salt in processed foods. The new policy would represent a shift for the FDA, which used to insist upon transparent nutrition labeling, which allowed consumers to make decisions about their consumption. Now, the government will simply cut out the bothersome middle man— personal freedom— and replace it with federal palate regulators.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

This won't hurt a bit.

There are so many creepy statist sentiments in this Washington Post piece that it wanders into self-parody. An unnamed source in the FDA illustrates just how ludicrously out-of-bounds the FDA's perception of its mission has moved:

"We're talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We're talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people."

Cheryl Anderson knows who is the enemy of health. You:

"We can't just rely on the individual to do something," said Cheryl Anderson, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who served on the Institute of Medicine committee. "Food manufacturers have to reduce the amount of sodium in foods."

Then, there's the pickle pickle:

Policymakers will have to decide whether to exempt inherently salty foods, such as pickles, while mandating changes in other products to reduce the overall sodium levels in the food supply.

And, you know what's really holding us back from better health? Our juvenile insistence on food that tastes good. The FDA's new rules would do away with the annoying market correction that creates food consumers actually want to eat:

Above all, government officials and food industry executives say, a product with reduced salt must still taste good, or it will flop in the marketplace, as evidenced by several low-sodium products that had abysmal sales.

The FDA will accomplish this regulatory coup, according to Washington Post's sources, by merely moving salt out of the "generally recognized as safe," category, which only requires accurate nutrition labeling into the unsafe substance category, which the FDA can regulate aggressively. It's the same trick the EPA pulled to expand the role of regulators over carbon levels. They simply had an "endangerment finding" that moved the substance from one EPA-created category into another, more heavily regulated EPA-created category, and voila!, regulatory power.

Ed Morrissey points to one study that argues against the medical justification for regulating salt, although one wishes a liberty argument alone were enough to stop such nonsense. Alas, now that the government has taken an even larger stake in the health-care industry, it will now busy itself finding inexorably more intrusive ways to govern our personal health.

As an aside, I'd like to point out that the New York Times was admirably direct in its headline about this story ("FDA plans to force a salt cutback"), as opposed to the Washington Post's much more kind couching ("FDA plans to limit salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons").

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