The pompously-named Center for Science
in the Public Interest has started (or, more accurately, restarted)
an offensive against salt.
Their press release is
and their 40-page PDF report is
Essentially, they recommend massive new government regulations
to decrease Americans' salt intake. They also recommend that
people cut down on salt voluntarily, and that government undertake
"education" programs to "encourage" people to do so. But that's
pretty much a sideshow to the advocated new regulations. And even the
new regulations are probably best thought of as an initial foot in the door.
(Let me confess, just to get it out of the way:
I love salt. And I have high blood pressure. I think I'd think the
same way if it were otherwise, but feel free to discount the below
by whatever measure you think appropriate.)
There are roughly two classes
of objections to the CSPI: I'll call them
principled and practical.
Practical first: there's a lot of reason to doubt that reducing
salt intake will actually achieve anything like the public health
benefits claimed by its proponents. You can read the CSPI side of
the argument in their PDF. For the other side, see this page from The Salt Institute. (Which
is obviously self-interested, but you can take that into account while
evaluating their arguments.) Also (via that page), see this article by
on Steven Milloy's Junk
Science website which outlines some of the politics and
history involved. (From which you'll learn that CSPI and others have been
freakishly hysterical about salt for over a quarter century.)
Also from the Junk Science site, see this year-old
article from Milloy.
I don't think you can come away from those arguments without a healthy
dose of skepticism about the anti-salt position. But …
what if the CSPI and their ilk (I love saying "ilk") are
right anyway, and the skeptics are wrong? Then what?
Well, there's the fallback-practical objection: maybe salt is a "killer"
like they say, but the proposals aren't going to save enough people to
be worth the cost. Some folks swoon in horror at such cold-blooded
cost-benefit analysis involving health and human life, but in fact it's
perfectly humane: the idea is that if you can spend your time and
resources more effectively in other regulatory efforts, it's a net
win for people's health and safety.
But what if—despite our healthy skepticism—CSPI-like
regulations really would be effective, and would save
150,000-and-change Americans from a premature death? What then?
Then, I think, you make the argument you probably should have made in
the first place, which is (roughly): mind your own business. This is
the principled position mentioned above. That is: when adults want to
ingest something into their own bodies, the state shouldn't interfere.
Radley Balko article from Cato making that rough argument generally.
It would be nice if the general philosophy of our government were moving
away from Nanny-Statism. Part of the problem is health-care
collectivism: the notion that "society" pays for "our" health problems
is a major (and maybe the major) corroder of liberty.
Your hypertension isn't just your problem, if I'm going to be paying
for your cardiac bypass in a few years. And—hey, I'm talking to
you, here—quite frankly, you should lay off the bonbons and
mimosas, stay out of Wendy's, don't watch TV so much,
join a gym or something, and …
I'll get the government to "encourage" all that. Encourage it
strongly, if that be necessary.
Feh. But that's the kind of mindset that's really behind the CSPI
("and their ilk"). How to fight it?