The FDA, perhaps still smarting from the recent artisanal cheese kerfuffle, is setting its sights on a bigger target: salt.
“The current level of [sodium] consumption is really higher than it should be,” said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. That’s why they’re preparing “voluntary guidelines” for the food industry encouraging them to stay below certain salt levels.
While the guidelines will initially be voluntary, health groups are lobbying for mandatory standards — lobbying that will only grow more intense if businesses refuse to comply once the standards are released. If businesses don’t go light on the salt “then FDA should start a process of mandatory limits,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson. (RELATED: Do our diets have to be progressive too?)
The health effects of reduced sodium diets are hotly debated, and in fact low sodium consumption may even threaten the health of those with congestive heart failure, according to a May 2013 study by the Institute of Medicine — the same NGO that’s been pressuring the FDA to crack down on salty food.
Health and science writer Gary Taubes, writing for The New York Times in 2012, explained that “With nearly everyone focused on the supposed benefits of salt restriction, little research was done to look at the potential dangers. But four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of death. Those trials have been followed by a slew of studies suggesting that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a ‘safe upper limit’ is likely to do more harm than good.”
The FDA is determined to press forward despite the ambiguous relationship between salt consumption and health, saying that Americans’ sodium levels are “of huge interest and concern” and that they hope to release the guidelines soon.
Former NYC Mayor and notorious “public health” warrior Michael Bloomberg was a trendsetter in this regard, having launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative, “a nationwide partnership to reduce sodium in the U.S. food supply,” in 2008–not that that’s stopped him from being liberal with the shaker on his own food.
As NYT science columnist John Tierney noted way back in 2009, regulatory policy based on unsettled science “makes test subjects of us all.”