Food prices continue to go up and consumers are feeling the pinch. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of food has spiked to its highest rate since September 2011. Consumers are now paying more for such staples as ground beef, chicken and turkey, eggs, bacon, citrus fruit, coffee, peanut butter, and margarine. Normally, politicians would try to alleviate this financial strain on American families. Yet, this administration seems to want to make food more expensive.
Consider the recent announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it plans to create “voluntary” guidelines for food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of sodium in their products and prepared meals. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg explained the move with the classic “it’s good for you” rationale, saying, “We believe we can make a big impact working with the industry to bring sodium levels down, because the current level of consumption really is higher than it should be for health.”
But is American salt consumption really unhealthy?
According to a new study from researchers at the University of Copenhagen Hospital in Denmark and published in the American Journal of Hypertension, the daily salt intake guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (currently set at 2,300 mg per day for people under 50 years old, and less than 1,500 mg per day for people over 50 years old) are “excessively and unrealistically low.” The researchers found that most Americans consume more sodium than the CDC recommendations (at around 2,645-4,945 mg per day) and that when sodium consumption fell outside that range, there was an increase in mortality.
But this research means little to regulators at the FDA. In the absence of science to bolster the agency’s position, the FDA has simply decided to go another route — forcing food companies, in direct contradiction of the science — to change their recipes to conform to government, instead of consumer, tastes.
One might assume based on this government strong-arming that consumers have trouble finding low-sodium options in the supermarket. But as anyone who does the grocery shopping knows, that’s a load of (soon to be low-sodium) baloney! Grocery stores are full of reduced and no-sodium options – from reduced and salt-free chips, crackers, soups, canned vegetables, nuts and seeds, salad dressings and mayonnaise, to butter, canned broth, fish and meats, frozen meals, pasta sauces and many other products.
Those naïve to how Washington works might argue that since these guidelines are “voluntary,” food companies can simply ignore them. Yet the truth is when a powerful regulatory agency “suggests” something, even while saying it’s totally “voluntary,” everyone knows the message is: comply or else!
Consumers should also know obedience to these “voluntary” guidelines will come at a cost — specifically higher prices at the grocery store and in restaurants as companies will be forced to invest more in research, testing and product development. And if you prefer to support your local and mom-and-pop brands, prepare to switch to bigger brands as these types of regulations come at a particularly high price to smaller manufactures that simply do not have the resources to comply.
One industry insider speculated food companies would face “tens of millions of dollars” in added costs. And, as NBC reported, “it will be easier for behemoths like PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, which have bigger R&D budgets to throw at the problem” but for businesses just starting out and small-scale manufacturers, the costs of these new regulations will be devastating.
Restaurants should also fight these guidelines. Already struggling due to a host of regulations included in Obamacare, restaurants are working hard to attract customers. Traditionally, eateries have succeeded by providing customers with food that tasted good. Now what? Should restaurant owners simply place a big-gulp sized salt shaker on each table with a placard that reads “please add more salt, you’ll need it!”
Americans are extremely fortunate to live in a country with abundant food choices, and they should be free to make their own choices. Business should also be allowed to respond to consumer demand.
If the government wants people to make better decisions for their health, our Constitution permits government officials only to keep hoping. Forcing people into salt-free compliance tastes a bit like an attack on our basic freedoms and a recipe for higher prices at the grocery store.
Julie Gunlock is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and the author of the book From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.