A proposal that the government regulate salt in foods is now being considered. The main motivations are that attempts to curb excessive intake of salt have failed and that this excess consumption has had a serious impact on the health of Americans.
Salt is, of course, an essential part of the human diet. As such, we cannot do without it. However, excess salt (as noted above) is harmful. The main impact is that it helps elevate blood pressure and this contributes to a variety of health problems. The obvious challenge is finding a way to balance between what people need and what is actually harmful.
On one hand, it does make sense for the government to step in an regulate salt. After all, it presents a clear health risk and thus would seem to fall under the dominion of the state. At the very least, consumers should be provided with information about the salt content in food (including that served in restaurants) so that they can make an informed choice. It also makes sense to reduce the salt content of food when possible so as to reduce the health risk to those who elect to simply eat without considering the health impact (that is, those who chose to eat in ignorance).
While some people are tossing out terms like “food police”, I am fine with there being food police. After all, I am somewhat familiar with the history of food in America and what sort of ingredients and contamination people were exposed to prior to the FDA. Even with the FDA we still face problems (such as food poisoning)-so just imagine what it would be like without the state regulating matters.
Also, the proposal does not ban salt shakers. If it is decided that salt levels in foods will be reduced, you can still shake away to your heart’s content (and early demise). Finally, many companies already offer lower sodium products and they could expand these product lines.
On the other hand, the are some reasons to be against the regulation. Once point is that the problem with salt is not that salt itself is dangerous. Salt is not like lead or mercury. What causes the problem with salt is excessive consumption. As such, the government would not be protecting us from a dangerous substance, but attempting to do something about excess consumption. This, it might be argued, is not actually something the state has the right to do. To use an analogy, eating excess calories presents a health threat to people. However, the government does not seem to have the right to mandate that food contain less calories so as to address this problem. After all, calories are not bad, it is the excessive consumption that is bad. It might thus be argued that since people have the freedom to consume in excess, they should also have the freedom to consume excess salt as well. Of course, this argument could also be turned around to be used as an argument for government regulation of calories. Interestingly, arguments for not regulating salt based on the right of free choice could also be deployed to argue for not regulating drugs like marijuana and also for allowing people to chose to marry the same sex. Of course, folks tend to only want people to have the freedom to choose what they want them to choose.
Another relevant point is that this sort of regulation might be pointless. Even if the salt in food is reduced, then this might have little impact. After all, if the food is not salty enough for people’s taste, then they will probably just salt it (as people already do). Or people will simply eat more until their craving for salt is satisfied. As such, regulating salt content might not be worth the cost of the regulation.
My considered view is that the salt in many foods is needlessly excessive and should be reduced, mainly to help reduce the harm people inflict on themselves in ignorance. After all, since too much salt is harmful and people seem unwilling or unable to voluntarily curb their salt intake, then the state should step in to protect them.
However, people should still have the choice to harm themselves if they really want excess salt. However, this should be a matter of informed choice and not the result of ignorant consumption. However, the excessively salty foods should probably have a slight tax on them that would be used to help offset the costs to Medicare/Medicaid resulting from such excess salt consumption. After all, while people should have the free choice to harm themselves, the medical care to deal with their poor choices is not (yet) free.