With a grain of salt: Right-wing media claim government is coming for your shaker

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

Following reports that the FDA is considering regulating the amount of salt in processed foods, media conservatives have falsely claimed that the Obama administration is "seizing our salt shakers." In fact, the FDA review has nothing to do with consumers' use of table salt and instead invovles examining warnings about high sodium content in processed foods and restaurant meals, the sources of 77 percent of sodium intake.

Right wing invokes fear that big government is coming for your salt shaker

Rush: "We can now thank the regime for seizing our salt shakers." During the April 20 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh commented: "We can now thank the regime for seizing our salt shakers." Limbaugh added that "they're going to take away our salt shakers, and we're supposed to thank the regime for seasoning our food."

Martha MacCallum: "Can't we make our own decision about whether or not we salt our food?" Announcing a Fox News online poll on the potential regulations, co-host Bill Hemmer said on the on the April 20 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom: "Do you think the government should regulate the ingredients in the food we eat?" Co-host Martha MacCallum asked: "Can't we make our own decision about whether or not we want to salt our food?"

Fox & Friends: "Food police" are "taking salt away from you." During the April 22 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade teased an upcoming segment by stating, "Coming up straight ahead, all this talk about the government taking salt away from you because it's so bad for you, but aren't there good things about salt?" Later, senior managing editor of FoxNewsHealth.com Dr. Manny Alvarez said, "I hate the government getting involved and telling me what to eat." Co-host Steve Doocy replied: "Food police!"

Jane Skinner: "Will the government take the spice out of life and the thrill out of cooking?" During the April 20 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jane Skinner asserted: "The FDA is making a major push to limit how much salt you eat. Will the government take the spice out of life and the thrill out of cooking?"

Bolling: "Hide the salt and pepper." Teasing an upcoming segment on the April 20 Fox Business' Happy Hour, co-host Eric Bolling stated: "Hide the salt and pepper. The government is about to shake up -- Get it? -- your eating habbits."

FDA reviewing warnings of high sodium levels in processed and prepared food, not regulating salt shakers

FDA is "not currently working on regulations nor has it made a decision to regulate sodium content." In an April 20 press release, the FDA stated: "A story in today's Washington Post leaves a mistaken impression that the FDA has begun the process of regulating the amount of sodium in foods. The FDA is not currently working on regulations nor has it made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time." The release further stated that the agency plans to review a recent Institute of Medicine report on the dangers of excessive sodium intake in processed and prepared foods and plans "to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply." [FDA, 4/20/10]

Institute of Medicine warns of "sodium in foods across the board by manufacturers and restaurants" where "the vast majority of people's sodium intake comes from." An April 20 brief from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies called for "a coordinated effort to reduce sodium in foods across the board by manufacturers and restaurants [emphasis added] -- that is, create a level playing field for the food industry." The brief stated:

As its primary strategy for sodium reduction, the committee recommends that the FDA set mandatory national standards for the sodium content in foods -- not banning outright the addition of salt to foods but beginning the process of reducing excess sodium in processed foods and menu items to a safer level.

The report brief stated that the majority of salt in food is "added as it is being processed or prepared by the food industry." An accompanying press release stated, "[T]he vast majority of people's sodium intake comes from salt that companies put in prepared meals and processed foods."

CDC: "Most sodium comes from processed and restaurant food." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: "Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurants foods. Only a small amount comes from salt added during cooking and from being added at the table, and most Americans have already exceeded their daily limit of sodium before cooking or adding salt at the table."

An accompanying chart explains that 77 percent of Americans' salt intake comes from processed and restaurant foods; only 6 percent is added at the table:

Saltfear

Yale University's Dr. David Katz: "The issue is not what you do with your salt shaker." Appearing on the April 20 edition of Fox Business' Happy Hour, Yale University's Dr. David Katz explained that "the FDA is not actively regulating anything" but that "[t]he industry has not fixed this problem on its own so the Institute of Medicine, which looks out for our health, is encouraging the federal authorities to do something about it." Katz also commented, "The issue is not what you do with your salt shaker," and added: "We often have these discussions about federal regulation as if the choice is between Big Brother telling you what to do or you making your own well-informed choice. So the question is, how informed are you now? Do you know that most commercial breakfast cereals are saltier than your diet should be on average?" Katz concluded: "It's not a choice between you taking personal responsibility because you don't have complete information."

Center for Science in the Public Interest praised report. In an April 20 release, the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated:

Legislators and public health groups today praised a long-awaited report from the National Academies' Institute of Medicine that calls for urgent, government action to reduce salt in packaged and restaurant foods.

"Limiting salt in packaged and restaurant foods is perhaps the single most important thing that the Food and Drug Administration could do to save hundreds of thousands of lives and save billions of dollars in health-care expenses," said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture should quickly implement the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, starting with mandatory limits on salt, which could be phased in gradually over time." [Center for Science in the Public Interest, 4/20/10]

Fox previously suggested NY salt reduction initiative was mandatory

Fox misrepresents NY voluntary initiative as a government mandate. Following the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's January announcement of a National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), Fox News anchors and personalities misrepresented the initiative as mandatory, despite the health department stating: "Targets are voluntary, not mandatory, so they cannot force products off the market."

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