Are New Sodium Guidelines a Prelude to Salt Ban?
Experts Warn Proposed Federal Guidelines Could Lead to Excessive Mandates, Health Risks
New York City Bait-and-Switch Regulatory Scheme Could Go Nationwide
Washington, D.C. - Government regulators are paving the way toward federally-imposed limits on sodium as the Food and Drug Administration is on the verge of issuing new guidelines on its use in restaurant-prepared and store-bought foods. Policy experts with the National Center for Public Policy Research call the expected action an unnecessary slippery slope rooted in politicized science that will further reduce consumer choice and potentially hurt public health.
"There's absolutely no legitimate purpose to allegedly voluntary guidelines that are issued by a regulatory agency other than as a precursor to mandatory regulation," said Jeff Stier, the director of the National Center's Risk Analysis Division.
In an interview with the Associated Press, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said new guidelines aimed at lowering the level of sodium in food products are nearing completion. Citing the guidelines as voluntary, Hamburg suggested to the AP that "we can make a big impact working with the industry" to lower sodium levels.
"While there are individuals with specific medical issues requiring a low-sodium diet, a one-size-fits-all prescription for a reduction in our daily salt intake is simply not sound advice for all Americans," said Cherylyn Harley LeBon, the co-chairman of the National Center's Project 21 black leadership network. "As a mom of two children, I am aware that salt assists in the development of healthy brains. Additionally, iodized salt intake is considered essential to preventing conditions that could lead to mental retardation."
In the same interview in which she teased new sodium limits, the FDA's Hamburg also cited the need for a "realistic timeline." Regulatory proponents, such as Michael Jacobsen, Ph.D. of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are already seeking to use such a timeline as a benchmark to create "a process of mandatory limits." It's this sort of expectation of failure that concerns National Center risk assessment experts.
"In fact, the voluntary-before-mandatory approach is simply a political strategy to make the rules palatable to a regulation-weary, salt-consuming public," said the National Center's Stier. "Dr. Sonia Angell, the Obama Administration's point person on non-communicable diseases, recently testified about how guidelines can turn into explicit rules — a tactic she not surprisingly employed while working for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When New York City's 2005-2006 'market-based voluntary strategy' to reduce restaurant trans-fats was ruled ineffective, Dr. Angell explained that 'we had, if not an ethical responsibility, certainly a public health responsibility to take action.' She touted the benefits of policies which change 'the entire food supply to a default that is a healthier default. It isn't about individual decision-making anymore, that's taken out of it.'"
While advocates for sodium regulation cite increased associated risk of heart disease and stroke, Project 21's LeBon notes a deficiency of sodium could also lead to similar risks. She said: "A recent study done by the Institute of Medicine concludes that further reducing salt intake may increase health risks in certain groups. That means the potential imposition of new sodium regulations along the lines of existing federal dietary guidelines could actually put people at risk. It proves why a low-salt diet is simply not recommended for everyone and should never be mandated by a bureaucracy."
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, three percent from foundations, and three percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.
Contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.