Melanie Warner's Latest As-"Salt" on Big Business

Business reporter Melanie Warner serves up her usual unappetizing stew of regulatory wishes on the front page of Wednesday's Business section in "The War Over Salt- It's the Food Industry vs. an Army of Medical Experts."

All of Warners' liberal ingredients arepresent - a simplistic theme of uncaring corporations or corporate-influenced organizations trying to foist unhealthy products on ignorant consumers, plusa dashof undue corporate influence on scientists -and stirred well to mask the radical nature of the pro-regulatory groups that are her sources.

"Frank Hall knows he probably should not eat Hungry-Man dinners. The frozen meals have as much as 2,230 milligrams of sodium per serving - far more than the government's recommended daily allowance for older people - and Mr. Hall's doctors have advised him to strictly limit salt consumption to help keep his blood pressure down."

Warner treats salt, which has been around for, oh, a few millennia, as a health hazard:

"Sprinkled into everything from bread to cheese, soups and breakfast cereal, just about every fast-food restaurant meal and now even fresh cuts of meat, salt is ubiquitous in the American food supply. And according to government data, Americans eat far too much of it.

"Now the nation's largest doctors' group, the American Medical Association, is going after the government and the food industry to reduce what it sees as a persistently high level of salt in many processed foods.

"At its annual meeting in late June, the medical association recommended that the Food and Drug Administration limit the amount of salt that food companies are allowed to add to products."


"The initiative has thrust salt into the limelight as a public health concern and raised questions over how attentive the F.D.A. has been to the problem of excess sodium consumption."

She notes that some doctors, including "some who are consultants to the Salt Institute," argue that across-the-board reductions in salt intake aren't necessary. Yet:

"Most other health experts, however, long ago accepted that excessive sodium consumption leads to various health problems. Along with the American Medical Association, groups like the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine and the government's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute say it has been known for at least two decades that salt-induced high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a significant contributor to heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death in the United States. (Cancer ranks second.)

"In 2004, researchers at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute published a study in The American Journal of Public Health concluding that 150,000 lives could be saved annually if sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods were cut in half."

To get technical about it, there's one only direct health problem, high blood pressure (not "various" ones) attributed to excessive sodium consumption, though high blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart disease. Also, recent studies are fingering lack of potassium and calcium as culprits, not just sodium.

As for that scary 150,000 figure? Consumer Freedom calls it dubious, noting that the man promoting the figure, Dr. Stephen Havas of the American Medical Association, used to work for the food police at the left-wing nanny group Center for Science in the Public Interest, and has never provided an explanation for the number.

Warner quotes Dr. Havas two paragraphs later, without noting his former employment with CSPI (and his previous pushing of this same salt issue on behalf of CSPI): "'Many thousands of Americans die each year due to cumulative health effects from the excessive sodium in our food supply,' said Dr. Stephen Havas, vice president of science, medicine and public health at the medical association and one of the champions of the salt project. 'There have been repeated calls over the last 25 years for the F.D.A. and the food industry to take actions that would reduce these unnecessary deaths. As a physician, it's very hard for me to understand why these groups have not addressed this critical public health problem.'"

And predictably, Warner quotes the food chief of police himself, CSPI's Michael Jacobson. "Some critics are skeptical that the F.D.A. will do much beyond hold a hearing. Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group often critical of the agency and the food industry, said he first tried to get the F.D.A. to do something about salt in processed food 23 years ago.

"'Sodium should be way at the top of the list at the F.D.A. and it's not even on it,' said Mr. Jacobson. The agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has never included salt on its annual list of priorities, he said.

"Mr. Jacobson says he thinks such passivity stems from a lack of resources and an unwillingness among top agency officials to take on the food industry. 'They know that if they say they're going to regulate salt, they're going to have a battle on their hands,' he said."