Free Minds & Free Markets

The FDA's Foolish War on Salt

The 'voluntary' crackdown lacks scientific support.

Salte.mcclay / FoterEarlier this month, as I touched on briefly in a recent column, the FDA issued a "voluntary" sodium "guidance" for the food industry. The agency is seeking to pressure companies to reduce the salt content of their foods.

It establishes and applies to 150 categories of food. It also creates two- and 10-year salt-reduction goals, with an eye to allowing time for "American palates to adapt to new tastes and manufacturers to reformulate products." The FDA claims the guidance is "intended to address the excessive intake of sodium in the current population and promote improvements in public health."

But the plan, I wrote, has "faced sharp criticism." So what's wrong with this voluntary guidance? Many things. Here are three.

First, it's not based on scientific consensus.

"A majority of the research on sodium and hypertension indicates that high levels of sodium slightly increase blood pressure," said Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a lawyer, former senior counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and a contributing fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis who's followed the issue closely, in an email to me this week. "However, the majority of recent research on sodium and total health outcomes actually shows a wide healthy range of sodium intake that is well above the FDA recommendations."

A statement by the Salt Institute, which represents salt makers, blasts the science underlying the FDA's guidance, calling the decision "tantamount to malpractice and inexcusable in the face of years of scientific evidence showing that population-wide sodium reduction strategies are unnecessary and could be harmful." The group rightly points out that a 2013 report by the Institute of Medicine—which, like the FDA, is housed within the Dept. of Health and Human Services—"specifically did not support sodium reduction."

"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 of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group that represents many of America's food and beverage makers, in the wake of the FDA's announcement earlier this month.

Second, besides its shaky scientific basis, the FDA attack on salt is clearly just an intermediate step toward a future move by the agency to cap the amount of salt in food. Consider the move in context.

The salt crackdown has been looming for years. And, as I've detailed, the FDA is currently at war not just with salt but also with a litany of other ingredients commonly found in many foods. Various activists are pressuring the FDA to turn its new "added sugar" label into a cap on the amount of sugar that can be added to food or, put another way, a ban on adding "too much" sugar. Other activists have sought to place limits on the amount of caffeine that can appear in foods. That's something the FDA has been considering.

As I've also lamented previously, voluntary guidelines have a tendency to become mandatory. New York City's salt rules started off as a voluntary effort, I've noted, and recently morphed into mandatory rules. The FDA's rules that required the trans fat content of foods quickly turned into a ban on manmade trans fats.

Finally, there's the very real problem that so-called "voluntary" rules aren't really voluntary at all.

"Food producers will face public pressure to comply with FDA sodium reduction efforts even if they are voluntary," LeBon told me this week. "This will require millions in costs to reformulate products so that they remain appealing to consumers. And who will pay for these costs in the end: parents, families, and consumers."

Simply put, this salt crackdown is the FDA's latest terrible idea.

Photo Credit: e.mcclay / Foter

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  • Lord at War||

    As I've also lamented previously, voluntary guidelines have a tendency to become mandatory.

    Slippery slopes are indeed slippery...

  • R C Dean||

    My best friend's ex-wife makes $94/hr on the laptop.

    Decent money for a stripper.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Look. You all know me. I love science. No one loves science more than I. But sometimes science just simply refuses to say exactly what we want it to say. I feel like sodium is bad for you. I've felt that way since seeing many news reports as a child telling me that. They were almost steadfast in their beliefs on it as much as when they said wine, eggs and chocolate were alternately bad and good for you. So, let's get to manipulating the American people and figure out the why of it later? Give science a chance to catch up in its own time.

  • Agammamon||

    Science, you know I love you baby. But sometimes . . . you make me soooo *angry* that I lose control. Why do you make me beat you?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No, don't feel like that just because of a link. There are plenty of other reasons for you to feel like that.

  • ||

    So how does a butthole feel ?

    Exactly ?

  • Pompey (91% LOLLOLZ)||

    Feels like wrapping yourself in a blanket like a burrito, and rolling around on the sod turf of a park. That's. Butthole.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why you gotta be like dat, science?

  • Libertarian||

    I see that this column is a repeat, so it's not exactly spicy content. I asked myself if I should read it again, and I said, "na." But I'll shake off my lethargy and keep an eye on the comments to see if they're peppered with any new insights. I hope I've made myself crystal clear.

  • Jerryskids||

    So do I, um, applaud this effort?

  • Lee G||

    That comment was a grind.

  • Agammamon||

    Somebody's getting (wood)chipper(ed).

  • DenverJ||

    You're really a salt of the earth kind of guy.

  • ||

    OT: Someone didn't feed the squirrels this morning...

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This kind of thing didn't happen when Welch was in charge.

  • Ted S.||

    It's Lucy's fault.

  • RBS||

    I never really cared for Lucy. There, I said it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Delete your account.

  • C. Anacreon||

    Yup, I was up late and really would have liked to read a thread or two I missed from earlier in the day. Instead I ended up reviewing upcoming flight details. (yawn)

    Don't these people have 24/7 IT? Who's in charge now anyway, is it that lady with the purple hair?

  • Jerryskids||

    There's no need to enforce compliance with good rules, a good rule is one most everybody's going to follow. If you have to broadly enforce compliance it's probably a bad rule. But what's the good of having power if you're only going to use it to tell people they should do something they were already planning on doing anyway? Exercising power lies in forcing people to do what they don't want to do, but the real thrill comes in forcing them to do something they not only don't want to do but that they shouldn't want to do. At some point it's not a matter of doing what you're told is for your own good, it's simply a matter of doing as you're told.

  • John||

    Pretty much all that. Somehow everyone seems to forget that you can't enforce a rule no one wants to follow and that laws are only as good as people's desire to follow them. There is an entire book about that subject called Crime and Punishment. But it was written like 300 years ago by an evil white male and reading it is really hard.

  • Cyto||

    Yes, and one has to remember who is making the rules.

    These guys are not 23 year old foodies. They are sedentary bureaucrates who are at the top of the heap, therefore they are on the down side of middle age and entering their geriatric period. So many of them will have health problems and will have been told to keep a low sodium diet.

    It is these people who lament the fact that going out to a fine restaurant or buying prepared foods is difficult on a low sodium diet. This is the motor that is driving them to enforce these restrictions for everyone.

    If 8 year old boys were put in charge of dietary restrictions we'd all be forced to have cool-aid or soda with every meal, pixie sticks on the side and ketchup on everything. It is all a matter of perspective. Not science.

  • Adans smith||

    Now I want salt and vinegar chips and some cold beer later.

  • kevrob||

    What I had for dinner:

    Leftover tricolor rotini, dry pasta from a box, was cooked a few days ago. I splashed a little olive oil on what I didn't have then. I had the remnants of store-made sweet Italian sausage, broken into a bottled red sauce doctored with fresh tomato and some oregano, on top of the pasta. I'm sure the sodium content of the sauce, let alone the sausage, would make the FDA guys freak. 24 oz can of Yeungling lager goes well with the macaroni dish. Now if only the Mets could stop giving away this game to an awful Atlanta team.....

    I switched to fresh ground pepper and ground coarse sea salt a while back. I use a lot less table salt, as the freshly ground stuff adds plenty of zest, with just a few twists of the grinder. I may make oven fries tomorrow. I have malt vinegar.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    OT: Leave your safety up to the professionals: FBI Tried and Failed to 'Lure' Omar Mateen

    The FBI ultimately concluded Mateen did not pose a threat, the sheriff added.
  • John||

    You do enough sting operations and the marks eventually get wise. The utility of such things goes down every time you do one.

  • np||

    Salt goes great with dark chocolate. All of the fancy chocolates I've tried with sea salt crystals in them are fantastic.

  • Lee G||

    Look at Mr Fancy Pants over here who's too good to eat Hershey's with the rest of us.

  • John||

    Really good chocolate is almost too rich and Ned's to be balanced with something savory like salt or chile.

  • ||

    Peppermint or GTFOH.

  • C. Anacreon||

    Who is this guy Ned whose chocolate needs to be balanced?

    I'll bet you put Jimmy's on your ice cream cone.

  • John||

    So you come into a place like Florida and preach the violent Jihad knowing that a few people are going to be crazy enough to act on it and do your dirty work. When they do you just say "you can't blame us for the acts of one deranged person."

    Now tell me again how Orlando has nothing to do with Islam? Remember just like Boston and San Bernindino this guy made no secret of his desire to do this. He sold his house to his brotherinlaw for a dollar. His wife helped him case the place. And none of them seemed to care. Why should they? He was going to get a ticket to heaven and advance the cause of Islam. And anyone who says what he did means Islam is a problem can be called a bigot.

    It's not hard to see how this works, if you are not willfully blind.

  • RBS||

    He owned a gun and hated gays. That is all anyone needs to know...

  • geo1113||

    It's Bush's fault. (Jeb, that is.)

  • ||

    You are exactly right. We aren't at war with Al Qaeda or with ISIS, we are at war with a philosophy. Kill those two groups and more just like them will pop up.

    This isnt the first time Islam has tried invading the west, and if they don't succeed it won't be the last.

  • GamerFromJump||

    Oh, I've played this game. You have to kill the spawn point to make the goons stop coming out.

    BRB, 'sploding madrassas.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    So you come into a place like Florida and preach the violent Jihad knowing that a few people are going to be crazy enough to act on it and do your dirty work. When they do you just say "you can't blame us for the acts of one deranged person

    Are we still talking about the FBI's track record with facilitating and encouraging their suspects?

  • Cyto||

    Look, if we can be so certain that Jarred Laughner is a right-wing republican who was inspired by Sarah Palin despite his history of left wing and Democrat activism and obsession with Giffords (and we are certain, just head over to HuffPo if you doubt it), then it is certainly no stretch to conclude that a muslim jihadist who calls the media and 911 mid-massacre to state his intentions to wage jihad and murder people in the name of Allah is in fact a right-wing christian inspired homophobe who is beholden to the Republican Party and is an example of domestic terrorism and right wing extremism.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    More OT: How the Rebel Flag Rose Again—and Is Helping Trump

    Trump's face appears on the cover of the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual report on domestic extremism, which found that from 2014 to 2015, right-wing hate groups grew 14 percent to almost 900. The Ku Klux Klan grew from 72 chapters to 190, although some of that growth came from the two largest groups splintering into smaller cells. Anti-government patriot/liberty groups, which have flourished over Obama's two terms, grew to nearly 1,000.

    They are pushing this issue like whoa.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Governing bodies began fierce debates over removing Confederate flags from public property. The Memphis City Council pushed to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who helped found the Ku Klux Klan after the war. The New Orleans City Council took down three Confederate statues and another commemorating an 1874 rebellion against the city's Reconstruction government. In Patrick County, Virginia, Judge Martin Clark ordered a portrait of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart taken down in the courthouse.

    But Potok says the chance for more change has passed. "Initially, it looked, right after the massacre, like symbols of the Confederacy were about to be stripped from the South," he says. "That did happen in some places, but it almost immediately engendered a real backlash, with the flag being embraced by all kinds of sectors of the radical right. I think what has happened is that for groups on the radical right, the Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of resistance to the federal government, which is their key issue. If you think about the Civil War, it makes sense; it was a battle fought by the South against the federal government."
  • John||

    Ignore the guy in the corner with the beard and a Koran holding a machine gun. The real danger is the Confederate Flag.

  • Brian||

    "I think what has happened is that for groups on the radical right, the Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of resistance to the federal government, which is their key issue."

    Yes, but that's a push, more or less, from the left. Regressive go after the flag as a symbol of "everything that's wrong with America" in the wake of the killings of Dylann Roof, etc. It puts southern rural Americans on the defensive for the crimes of crazy people. So, they rally around the flag.

    Next thing you know: the southern right is embracing the confederate flag, for sinister motives. Because no motive is more sinister than avoiding he collective guilt over a madman's killing spree.

    That's a completely fair play of the usual cultural subjectivism BS.

  • John||

    So they KKK grew but not really because most of the growth was just existing groups spliterring. Yet that doesn't matter because a bunch of other groups that are nothing like the KKK got bigger.

    That is some solid reasoning there.

  • Akira||

    "Anti-government patriot/liberty groups, which have flourished over Obama's two terms, grew to nearly 1,000."

    Gee, I wonder why! I just can't see how anyone could live under Obama's rule and have concerns about personal liberty!


  • Cdr Lytton||

    So the SPLC is against Liberty, huh? How long before they put their own name on their lists? Those fuckers are crazy enough to do it too.

  • straffinrun||

    Norm has a new stand up bit on Youtube. Apart from Bill Burr, not much stand up quality out there these days. If you have the time, rapists.

  • RBS||

    I was watching some Bill Burr last night. I love his motherhood bit and the one about standing in line to get a sandwhich.

  • straffinrun||

  • ||

    Just like there's always room for Jello, there's always time for Norm.

  • John||

    Teach women not to rape.

    Students at college that is 97% women protest its rape culture.

  • straffinrun||

    We definitely need more non-toxic rape culture.

  • lap83||

    non-toxic rape culture

    Is that rape culture with ingredients you can pronounce?

  • straffinrun||

    Tastes better with a half cup of cumin.

  • CZmacure||

  • Cyto||

    This is just proof that you can get people fired up about anything. As long as you posit an "us against them" scenario and put them in the "us" category, you can get them fired up.

    The "rape" button is pretty deep seated too. I was talking with someone about this whole issue the other day - she's completely unable to discuss the notion that someone might be falsely accused of rape. So getting around to the "two drunk kids hook up after a party and it turns out that she's so drunk she blacks out" scenario is impossible. It is no wonder that we have such bizarre things as "enthusiastic consent" being pushed as a matter of law.

    I've seen it many times, but this recent conversation just reminded me that in "us against them" scenarios, there is no empathy for "them". So you will never even get a moment's consideration as to whether it is fair to hold a young kid accountable for sussing out the mental state of another person while in the heat of the moment and under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Fair doesn't enter into the picture.

    If she thinks she was violated, it is a life-altering tragedy. Even if she was black-out drunk and has no memory of the event. Heck, even if the event never happened at all. You have to believe the victim accuser. Because they are on the "us" side of the ledger. And you don't want to be on the "them" side of the ledger.

  • ||

    Is violence against women who transition back & forth between being an alien justifiable?

  • Hamster of Doom||

    You know, government is so great. Decades of miserable failure with their cholesterol is bad mistake (oops!), decades of growing obesity, medical doctors and nutritionists so incapable of grasping basic human function and relating it to their patients that bariatric surgery is now "diabetes management" and the FDA approves surgically-induced bulemia (sounds healthy!!). And does any of that give even one person the slightest moment of pause? Don't be silly.

    Salt is required to maintain health. Go ahead. Let them tinker with you. The medical industry is standing ready with million-dollar surgeries to correct the problem, and you're forced to pay for insurance anyways, so it's the perfect arrangement. For someone.

  • Dan S.||

    Even if the guidelines were truly voluntary, by what right does the government spend the people's tax dollars to make their tastes "adapt" to its vision of what they should be?

  • Hamster of Doom||

    If we did not want them to use absolute power, we shouldn't have handed it to them.

  • Jason Vick||

    The FDA's Foolish War on Salt . The agency should pressure more companies to reduce the salt content of their foods.

  • lap83||

    This article pairs well with bacon

  • Rhywun||

    So the other day I bought a box of wheat crackers that I used to enjoy as a kid. They've removed so much salt that they taste disgusting now. This initiative is nothing new - I've been noticing it for years. It's madness.

  • JTWright553||

    The FDA is about as useless as the TSA

  • R C Dean||

    Quit teasing us, Skynet. We're tired of waiting on SMOD. You're here now, so just . . . end it. Please, we're begging you.

  • ||

    FDA is gonna fuck things up and then in 10 years they'll pull another 'oops'.

    Do they dress up as clowns during their meetings?

  • ||

    As I recall the latest studies show that high salt intake is harmless. The FDA is still pushing this horseshit? What a surprise.

  • Shirley Knott||


    What matters is your salt intake checked against your serum mineral levels. NOT blood pressure!
    I am so sick of people who hear I have (mild) hypertension insisting that I simply must cut out salt and all will be well.
    I am clinically hyponatremic (low blood sodium). When my blood sodium gets too low, I get migraines. I can cure them by eating a teaspoon of salt.
    My blood sodium levels are as far below the 'minimum' level as my blood pressure is above the 'maximum healthy' level (which they keep lowering btw). But 'everyone knows' that salt leads to high blood pressure.
    It's infuriating, especially when picnics, company functions/social events have pepper but no salt -- in the name of 'health'. Feh.

  • Mike Laursen||

    That's the one that drives me nuts, too. Not the government, but every big, quasi-paternalistic corporate cafeteria hides the salt shakers.

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    Can we prosecute the science deniers in the FDA?

  • Jess||

    I've noticed that this is how 'voluntary' seems to work:
    1) make compliance voluntary
    2) nobody volunteers/few volunteer. Gather data on those that do.
    3) lack of sufficient volunteering is used as a justification for making the voluntary thing mandatory. Any data gathered during the voluntary stage is used to support the mandatory.
    4) what was voluntary is now mandatory.

    If people truly want to voluntarily do something (lower the salt in food, etc) there is no reason that I can see for government involvement or approval.

    In other words, voluntary is probably bs.

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    Voluntary, wink, this is voluntary, wink. Say that's a nice business you have there it would be a shame if something happened to it.

  • sarcasmic||

    Salt makes food taste good. Why? Because it is necessary for survival. Don't get enough salt and you will die.

    Much of the doctrine saying that salt causes high blood pressure and other medical problems have been seriously questioned recently, but it has been dismissed because the "science is settled." Which of course means that the "science" has given assholes in government an excuse to wield power.

    Additionally low salt diets have been linked to dementia and other problems. Why? Because nerves require salt to send signals. And what is a brain but a mass of nerves. If it doesn't get enough salt then it can't function.

    This is just more politically motivated bullshit hiding under the guise of "science" that isn't science because they refuse to recognize anything that contradicts their predetermined conclusions.

  • Akira||

    "science is settled"

    That phrase really rattles me. Science is never 100 percent settled. It is ALWAYS subject to questioning. History provides countless examples of theories that were "accepted" and "settled" but later found to be completely wrong... The earth is flat, every illness is caused by an imbalance between the four humors, all matter is made up of fire, earth, wind, water, or some combination thereof...

  • Shit Pyrate||

    Well this sucks. As a cook when they started to mandate that all salt shakers be taken of off tables, I started to use ingredients like parmesan cheese to season my dishes. With this new "Voluntary" guideline. Why should I even try ?

  • Shit Pyrate||

    I would rather use ingredients that contain salt, than straight salt to season food. You get more flavor that way. The FDA is just forcing me to use straight salt.

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    Gruel, switch the entire menu to nutritious, approved gruel.

  • sarcasmic||

    Hospital food for everyone!

  • Brian||

    You guys are so deep in the pockets of Big Sodium, it's not even funny.

  • Pompey (91% LOLLOLZ)||

    Gladys ate my salty fruitbowl. And at least she knows how to spell "month" correctly.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: The FDA's Foolish War on Salt

    This is because the FDA isn't worth their salt.
    Sorry, but it had to be said.
    You may flog me later.
    But only if you call me Molly.

  • Lewis SEO Indianapolis||

    Good but what's the good of having power if you're only going to use it to tell people they should do something they were already planning on doing anyway?

  • Motivation Quotes||

    I never really cared for Lucy. There, I said it.
    Greatest Motivational Quotes
    Nice Motivational Quotes

  • Motivation Quotes||

    This is because the FDA isn't worth their salt.
    Sorry, but it had to be said.
    short sayings
    short quotes


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