The FDA’s Science-Free Anti-Salt Crusade

Kerri Houston Tolozcko Senior Fellow, Frontiers of Freedom
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It seems that Michael Jacobson, watch commander of the food police and executive director of the anti-corporate Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), hates food.  On any given day, he is battling with berries, clams, fat free and fat laden foods.

A strict vegetarian, Jacobson has made a lucrative career of attacking America’s nutritional products and scaring hungry consumers. In its last IRS filing, CSPI claimed a budget of nearly $20 million, not including Jacobson’s speaking, writing, and appearance fees.

Their latest target is salt, and his agenda-driven scare tactics have influenced government bureaucrats who share his vendetta against U.S. corporate food producers. This is especially true of the FDA.

Salt is an electrolyte (essential mineral) necessary to sustain human life, health and all bodily functions. Not enough circulating sodium has a name — hyponatremia — which can lead to congestive heart failure, liver and kidney failure, brain swelling, pneumonia and death.

Studies show that people worldwide safely and routinely consume an average of 2,600-4,800 milligrams of sodium per day — well above the US government recommendation of 1,500-2,300. According to an analysis of a British medical journal study authored by World Health Organization researchers, people in countries with the highest salt consumption have the longest life expectancies while those with the lowest salt consumption have the shortest. Sodium intake in the U.S. has not changed in fifty years while our life expectancy has increased from 70 to 80 years during that time period, so it seems that salt is indeed preserving us.

In 2013, the Institute of Medicine concluded that subjective U.S. government sodium intake guidelines of 1,500-2,300 daily milligrams are not supported by peer-reviewed, scientific studies published in medical journals. A 2011 study in the renowned Journal of the American Medical Association noted that low sodium levels were “associated with higher Cardiovascular Disease mortality.” A newly-released study in the American Journal of Hypertension concluded that diets with sodium lower than what is contained in typical American diets are associated with higher death rates.

Despite overwhelming science showing low sodium counts are unhealthy, FDA is preparing to release “voluntary” guidelines to food companies and restaurants requesting they (further) lower sodium in foods. America’s food companies have already instituted costly sodium reductions in many products and also offer thousands of low-sodium choices for consumers already bitten by the food fear bug.

In news coverage of this FDA action, CSPI and Michael Jacobson are featured prominently as the media cheerfully regurgitates his and the FDA’s propaganda without benefit of doing its own science homework. The Associated Press reported that this FDA action is “a federal effort to prevent thousands of deaths” even though unbiased science clearly demonstrates that dietary salt is a sustainer of life, not an attacker.

The Obama FDA and CSPI have a prosperous symbiotic relationship. Jacobson uses his influence, media savvy and junk science to guide FDA thinking. The FDA first issues labeling requirements, then guidelines and next, product bans which CSPI uses to fundraise into a very large nonprofit nest egg.

If these strategies fail, it sues. Its prolific and lucrative litigation division is currently suing Nature Valley’s granola products, Vitamin Water, and One A Day vitamins, and threatening lawsuits against Crystal Light lemonade, Ensure nutritional shakes, and Kashi products. Although it lines it own pockets with anti-food activism, CSPI’s actions limit people’s food choices and cause food companies to defend their products for hundred of millions of dollars — a cost always passed on to consumers.

The CSPI, the leftist foundations that support it, and Obama appointees at the FDA have demonstrated that they are a collective special interest bound together by an ideological distaste for corporate food producers, and in the case of upcoming sodium restrictions suggested by government bureaucrats, this includes American companies producing dietary salt inexpensively and abundantly for a population that cannot live without it.

CSPI may have “science” in its name, but there is none in its policy recommendations.

Salt has always been an essential element in the progress of civilization — we wouldn’t be here without it. Ten thousand years ago, the first communities developed around salt deposits.  The great civilization that was Rome began as a salt trading center, with salt so valuable that its legions were paid in salt, or “salarium” — the origin of the word “salary.”

The trendy beach apparel company “Salt Life” picked its name well. Salt is life, and we should not allow radical activists and the FDA to create a wall between this life sustaining mineral and our exuberant consumption of it.

Any bureaucrat worth his salt should recognize the difference between science and political activism and act to promote American health, not endanger it.

Kerri Toloczko is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy institute dedicated to promoting individual freedom, limited government and free enterprise. 

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Kerri Houston Tolozcko