More Dangerous Government-Backed "Consensus" Science: Salt

A regular theme here is how the government -- supposedly consisting of all-perfect experts who can use their expertise to run the people's lives -- regularly falls for scientific nonsense promoted by the loudest and most-insistent self-promoters (always living entirely on the government nickel).  See, e.g., climate, the "low-fat" diet, etc.  Of course, in every case the scientific nonsense translates into lots more power for some power-obsessed government bureaucracy.  

A particularly egregious example of the phenomenon is the campaign against dietary salt.  Back in 2013 I wrote two posts on this subject, the first (in May) titled "Junk Statistics And The Government's Campaign For More Power," and the second (in July) "The Endless Supply Of Fake Scares And Statistical Scams."  The particular thing that inspired those posts was that the Institute of Medicine -- which had long supported government initiatives to regulate salt in the diet -- had just come out with a report analyzing the literature on dietary salt, and had concluded that there was little evidence of harm at levels consumed by most Americans, and some substantial evidence that reducing salt much below these levels could well be harmful to many people.  The May 2013 post quoted from a New York Times article of that month reporting on the brand-new IOM study, title "No Benefits Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet."  Excerpt:

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines. . . .  “As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.    

And it hasn't gotten any better since then for the anti-salt campaign.  For example, the Washington Post wonkblog reported in April 2015 on the latest, in a post titled "Is the American diet too salty?  Scientists challenge the long-standing government warning."   

[U]nknown to many shoppers urged to buy foods that are “low sodium” and “low salt,” this longstanding warning has come under assault by scientists who say that typical American salt consumption is without risk. . . .  [A]ccording to studies published in recent years by pillars of the medical community, the low levels of salt recommended by the government might actually be dangerous.  “There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines,” said Andrew Mente, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and one of the researchers involved in a major study published last year by the New England Journal of Medicine. “So why are we still scaring people about salt?”

So, Mr. Menton, your side appears to have won this one, so why are you still complaining?  The reason is that adverse data seems to have completely lost its ability to deter bureaucracies bent on increasing their power.  We're now three years into the era when everybody who follows the issue knows that salt in the diet at levels you find tasty is not harmful, and yet just this week we have two pieces of news on bureaucracies not only continuing, but ramping up the anti-salt jihad.  

First, the FDA.  Just this week the FDA has come out with a new thing called its "Draft Guidance" for "Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals."   Do you like that "voluntary" part?  Good luck to a Kraft or a Goya if they try to say they decline to participate.  So why is the FDA doing this at this time? Here's their justification:

According to the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report, “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States” (Ref. 5), multiple public health efforts have attempted to reduce sodium intake over the past 40 years. However, these efforts, which mainly included education initiatives, have not been successful. The IOM noted this and concluded that without an overall reduction of the level of sodium in the food supply, consumers will not be able to reach intakes recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. 

Yes, it's based on a 2010 IOM report.  But what about the 2013 IOM report that found that the dietary sodium levels recommended by the Dietary Guidelines were borderline dangerous?  They somehow spin it as supporting their position, and completely ignore all the recent adverse research and data out there.  From a June 1 New York Times article reporting on the FDA initiative:  

David A. McCarron, a research associate in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, said a number of studies had shown risks of too little salt.  “Going below 3,000 is dangerous — that’s what the data has shown,” said Professor McCarron, who has consulted for the food industry.

By the way, the government's guideline for salt is 2300 mg per day.  And by God we're going to make the food companies get us there, no matter how many people we kill along the way!

Also in the news, on May 26 a panel of the New York State Appellate Division, First Department (the district that covers Manhattan and the Bronx) has upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction sought by the National Restaurant Association against the New York City Department of Health to prevent it from enforcing new rules requiring that the amount of salt in each dish be specified on the menu.  You say that it's impossible even to know how much salt the cook may have shaken from his salt shaker onto your steak?  Too bad!  Hey, if the FDA can put through a bunch of anti-salt regulations, then so can we!

Among all the government crusades and jihads, the anti-salt campaign has to be about the most pointless.  Your body tells you when you need more salt, and if you're not getting enough from your industrial salad dressing and canned soup, it's likely that you will suddenly find yourself with a craving for potato chips or a ham.  But meanwhile a bunch of bureaucrats get to feel really self-important about flexing their power.  The result will show up in your cost of food, but you'll never be able to attach any specific amount as the incremental cost imposed by the regulators.  Meanwhile the amount of your dietary salt intake will remain the same.