FDA Salt Initiative Leaves Bitter Aftertaste

Washington, D.C., April 20 – Statement of Daniel Compton, Policy Analyst, on the Food and Drug Administration’s plans to impose legal restrictions on the amount of salt in processed food:

The FDA claims that this unprecedented federal initiative will lower rates of heart disease and hypertension in America. However, scientific research shows that while it may indeed be advisable for some people to reduce their salt intake, the FDA’s plan to cut the salt intake of all Americans simply will not work.

Decades of research have shown that there is a specific neurological mechanism by which we unconsciously adjust our diets to consume physiologically predetermined quantities of salt.  If the FDA forces food producers to add less salt, people will simply unconsciously adjust their diets to compensate, resulting in no net decrease in salt intake.

The FDA’s plan makes even less sense when you look at their numbers: the FDA has set the target salt intake level for most people at 2,300mg per day.  This number starkly contrasts with the findings of a recent study by nutritionists at the University of California at Davis.  By examining data collected from over 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide, researchers concluded that there is a narrow, well defined sodium intake range of 2,700 to 4,900mg per day, with the worldwide average of 3,700mg per day—well above the 3,400mg the average American consumes daily.  Other research corroborates these findings by showing that most people are simply unable to reduce their salt intake below about 2,700mg per day, even when receiving regular instruction and dietary counseling.

A few months ago, the Bloomberg Administration unrolled a campaign aimed at working with food manufacturers to voluntarily add less salt. The FDA’s current initiative takes the Bloomberg plan to the extreme by employing the force of law to achieve the same end. Neither Mayor Bloomberg’s softball approach nor the FDA’s hardball approach will lower the salt intake of average Americans; and the FDA’s nation-wide plan will be exponentially more costly than the Bloomberg plan.

Given that the scientific evidence illustrates that the FDA’s plan will have little-to-no effect on average salt intake, we may as well chalk up this new initiative as yet another colossal waste of taxpayer funds.