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The Coming War on Bacon

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.” - Thomas Jefferson

Having dramatically expanded the role of the government in your doctor’s office and your bank this year, the Obama administration is turning its attention to your kitchen. Sara Burrows, a reporter for the Carolina Journal, reported on the ramifications of the Obama administration’s war on salt, announced recently as a nationwide decade long program by the FDA. I followed up with her on a podcast for Health Care News. Hold your breath for the potential casualties — that’s right, we’re talking about ham and bacon.

It’s all about the war on salt, which has been previously discussed at BigGovernment. Essentially, the Food and Drug Administration, acting at the behest of the Institute of Medicine, is cracking down nanny state fashion on the amount of salt you get from pre-packaged foods and in restaurants.

As Burrows writes:

In April, the Institute of Medicine advised the FDA to lower the recommended daily intake of sodium for individuals from 2,300 mg to 1,500 mg. It also recommended setting maximum legal limits on salt in all packaged and restaurant foods.

The plan is “to slowly ratchet down the sodium level, so people won’t notice the change,” said Christina DeWitt, a food scientist on the IOM advisory panel.

A very sly approach, treating the American people as a frog in boiling water. But something tells me they’ll notice if this happens:

It’s also unclear how the FDA would treat bacon, another pork product heavily reliant on salt. A story on salt regulation in The Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that the “FDA might mandate maximum amounts of sodium per serving in food categories — say, bacon — in 2015, then slightly less in 2018, and finally reaching the goal in 2024.”

That would pose problems for bacon producers. “Bacon’s not bacon unless you use salt to cure it,” Cansler said.

Consider it the one kind of pork the Obama administration doesn’t approve of: the kind you eat. Have you tried pre-packaged reduced-sodium bacon? I did this week just to test it out. The stuff tastes like warm cardboard. The FDA and the food police want to force us to eat this crap?

Setting aside the anti-good food crackdown of the government in the kitchen, there’s an important question here: will this massive new decade-long regulatory uptick in mandated salt reductions even help normal people? As Jacob Sullum at Reason has noted, mandating lower daily intakes for sodium is hardly a proven benefit for the average healthy person. Sullum quotes a 1998 piece from Science magazine which pointed out:

For the agencies involved to induce the public to avoid salt, they must convince individuals that it’s bad for their individual health, which, for those with normal blood pressure, it almost assuredly isn’t… The argument that salt reduction is a painless route to lower blood pressure also assumes that there is no downside to this kind of social engineering.

The FDA is set to apply an across the board standard which had previously just been for “individuals who are 40 years of age or older, African-American, or have a history of high blood pressure.” According to longtime salt expert Michael Alderman, chair of department of epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York: “What we’re involved in here is an experiment to see what’s going to happen…We do not have evidence that reducing sodium is going to increase the quality or the duration of our lives.”

On the flip side, in many of these prepackaged foods, you need high levels of sodium to ward off contamination and food poisoning. Burrows reports:

Candace Cansler, director of the National Country Ham Association, said U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations require country hams to have at least 4 percent salt content. Any less and the meat is subject to microbial contamination.

DeWitt said the FDA probably wouldn’t write a rule contradicting the USDA’s 4 percent minimum rule, but it might set a salt content maximum at 6 or 7 percent.

As Moe Lane writes, “when somebody informs you that there needs to be a minimum level of a particular food additive present to prevent people from becoming infected, saying that the rule ‘probably’ won’t be changed is not very… smart, really.”

Personally, if I were you, I’d find a good local butcher now, before they become far too popular. While the FDA can crack down on prepackaged food and restaurants, they won’t be able to stop the local meat provider (blessed be his name) from making things that taste great the old-fashioned way. For normal, healthy people who eat in moderation, these new regulations just serve to ruin good food and raise the risk of food poisoning and contamination. The nanny state faction has no part of choice — I remember listening to a Republican-appointed Surgeon General rant about the dangers of soda pop — but is unanimous in its belief that citizens are too stupid to take care of themselves.

This is what happens when the bureaucracy gets out of control, angry at being ignored for decades by normal citizens with better things to do. We now have a government that isn’t content to just issue recommendations for how you should live. It’s going to make you live that way, whether you want to or not.

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