NY Times' Warner Shakes Fist at Salt

     The same New York Times reporter peeved by toy Hummers in McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) Happy Meals and funny beer ads during the Super Bowl is now is leading an assault on … salt.  Reporter Melanie Warner pitted a defensive food industry against health professionals in her September 13 story.


     Buried deep in her article was how the food industry is working to offer low-sodium food that tastes good – even though consumers have rejected many low-sodium product lines.


     “The War Over Salt: It’s the Food Industry vs. an Army of Medical Experts” blared the headline for Warner’s article on the front page of the Business Day section.


     After leading off her story with an 80-year-old heart disease patient who disobeys his doctor’s orders to limit sodium intake, Warner informed readers that 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.”


     Warner later turned to anti-food industry critic Michael Jacobson to issue his call for more government regulation. “Sodium should be way at the top of the list at the FDA. and it’s not even on it,” Jacobson complained about the regulatory body’s priorities.


     But in introducing him to readers, Warner described Jacobson’s Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) as merely a “nutrition advocacy group often critical of the agency and the food industry.” Far from being a mere advocacy group or government watchdog, CSPI has a litigious side to its radical activism.


     This year it filed suit against fast food chain KFC over its frying oil and threatened, but so far hasn’t gone through with, suing Cadbury Schweppes for its latest 7-Up advertising campaign. CSPI also dropped plans for a lawsuit against major soft drink makers after former President Bill Clinton brokered a deal between major soft drink makers and the nation’s public school cafeterias.


     It wasn’t until deep in her article on page C10 that Warner included some explanation from the food industry why salt is used so much in food processing. “Unlike the mechanism for sweetness, the science of salt taste is not well understood, so it’s really difficult to find a substitute,” Campbell’s Soup vice president of research and development George Dowdie told Warner.


     What’s more, food makers like ConAgra (NYSE: CAG) and General Mills (NYSE: GIS) have tried to diversify their product lines in the past, offering more low-sodium or no-sodium options. Some, Warner conceded, were pulled from the market due to dismal sales. Simply put, consumers preferred higher-sodium products for the taste that only salt can lend a processed food.


     Indeed, as writer Candy Sagon noted in her story in The Washington Post’s September 13 Food section, our preference for salt in food is biologically inborn.


     “For humans, they're two highly desirable tastes. Sweetness signals a source of nutrients and calories. Sodium is an important nutrient for the functioning of our nervous system,” researcher Leslie Stein of the Monell Chemical Senses Center told the Washington Post’s Candy Sagon.  In fact salt “actually enhances the sweetness of things. It makes sweet things taste sweeter,” Sagon quoted Stein in her September 13 Food section article.


     The Business & Media Institute has previously documented Warner’s biased reporting on the food industry. In the March 29 Times, Warner turned to left-wing groups to slam Anheuser-Busch Companies (NYSE: BUD) for it’s Bud Light “Rooftop” ad, which involved two men taking a beer break while pretending to perform outdoor chores such as cleaning the gutters or fixing a satellite dish. And in August, Warner attacked fast food chain McDonald’s and car maker General Motors (NYSE: GM).


     “When General Motors introduced the three-ton, 11-miles-to-the-gallon Hummer H2 four years ago, it redefined American extravagance,” Warner disapprovingly opened her column. Although high gas prices have led to declining sales for the behemoth SUV, “McDonald’s, however, appears not to have gotten the message,” she sighed.