FDA Regulators Cook Up Reckless Anti-Sodium Plan

The Competitive Enterprise Institute on Friday submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opposing plans to pressure food makers to significantly lower sodium content in commercially processed, packaged, and prepared foods.

“The FDA’s plans to set dietary sodium limits in manufactured food might be well-meaning but could end up doing more harm than good,” said Michelle Minton, a CEI fellow in consumer policy studies and the author of a forthcoming report on sodium policy.

“Health and nutrition are far more complicated than a single-ingredient, one-size-fits-all approach to food policy,” Minton explained. “Instead of pressuring people to make a drastic change in how much salt they consume, the emphasis should be on educating people about improving the quality of their overall diet and how that can improve health and lower hypertension risk.”

Key points in the CEI comments to FDA include:

  • There is no evidence that for most people, lowering sodium intake from the average 3,400 mg per day to the FDA-recommended 2,300 mg per day reduces risk of hypertension or improves public health.
  • Research on the effect of sodium in the diet and sodium restriction on health has grown increasingly conflicted. For example, while some research has found higher sodium is associated with poor health outcomes in certain groups (such as people who are overweight or smoke), other studies have found that sodium restriction is also linked to worse health in certain groups.
  • Particularly important are studies linking sodium restriction with higher mortality among type I and type II diabetics—groups representing nearly 30 million Americans and 10 percent of the population.
  • Salt consumption has remained virtually unchanged since at least the 1950s, in the U.S. and worldwide. And on average, people consume a relatively similar amount of sodium. That suggests that even if food makers reduce sodium in food, people may seek it out elsewhere in their diet, possibly choosing less healthy foods to satisfy their salt craving.

The CEI comments to the FDA are in response to the agency’s draft policy guidance on voluntary sodium reduction guidelines. The FDA will begin work on final policy guidance in the new year. Guidance is advice given by an administrative agency to the public or regulated industry on how best to comply with a law or regulation. While technically non-binding, regulator decrees labeled “guidance” have a big impact on how a regulated industry conducts business and, in this case, what health advice is communicated to the public at large.