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Bloomberg to NYC: Fuhgedabout adding salt!

City wants restaurants, manufacturers to cut sodium in food.

By Teresa Mears Jan 11, 2010 4:58PM

Put down that salt shaker! Right now!


That’s the message New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is sending to restaurateurs and manufacturers of food products.


The mayor who led crusades against smoking and trans fats and pushed for calorie counts in New York City restaurants now wants food manufacturers and restaurants to cut the amount of salt in their products by 25% in the next five years.


Eighty percent of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from packaged or restaurant food, The New York Times reported. “We all consume way too much salt, and most of the salt we consume is in the food when we buy it,” Dr. Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner, told The Times.


New York is hoping food purveyors will voluntarily comply with its salt targets, since legislating salt content might be difficult. The city also is hoping for nationwide cooperation, since companies are not going to make special foods to be sold in New York.

The city has found a few food companies that are ready to cooperate, including A&P and Subway.


“We think it’s a very realistic set of criteria that our suppliers can adhere to,” Douglas A. Palmer, vice president for store brands at A&P, told The Times. 


Other companies don’t plan to sign on, including Campbell Soup Co., which has reduced the salt content of many of its products. “We will continue to reduce sodium as long as there’s consumer acceptance in the marketplace,” Chor-San Khoo, the company’s vice president for global nutrition and health, told The Times.

ConAgra said it would continue with its previously announced plans to cut the sodium in its products by 20 percent by 2015. But it doesn’t plan to join New York’s campaign.


The Wall Street Journal noted that companies are finding stealth salt reduction effective, making products with a lower salt content but not announcing it on the label.


Marian Nestle at Food Politics doesn’t see New York’s proposal as radical. She writes:

This is actually a modest proposal. We still have a long way to go. The proposed standard for marketing foods to children, for example,  is 480 mg sodium (more than a gram of salt) per serving. A mere half-cup of Campbell’s low sodium soups contains that much. Campbell says it’s up to you to get the company to do better.

Some question whether New York’s proposal is based on good science. Thanks to Jacob Sullum at Reason for pointing out a 2008 article by John Mariani in Esquire, questioning whether reducing salt intake has any health benefits for most people. Mariani writes:

This isn't to say that salt is safe for everyone. Studies show that 30 percent of the Americans who have high blood pressure would greatly benefit from a low-sodium diet. But that's about 10 percent of the overall population -- the rest of us are fine with sodium. And drastically cutting out sodium may actually hurt some people.

And then there is the issue of whether it’s the job of the New York City mayor to worry about salt in people’s diets, especially since the mayor himself has been seen applying quite a bit of salt (who salts bagels?) to his food.


Sarah Gilbert at Daily Finance doesn’t want to be part of a great scientific experiment based on dubious science. She wrote:

I, for one, am rather tired of being subjected to whatever is the latest great idea of the self-appointed ministers of health (that switch to soybean oil is so not helping us). And I'm certainly not going to reduce my salt intake; salt is one of the great joys of my life. It's only one of the reasons I avoid packaged and processed foods and cook my own from whole food ingredients (and lots of delicious sea and mineral salts from around the world). But, as much of the U.S. gets the majority of its food pre-packaged and cooked by food manufacturers and restaurants, if Bloomberg and [former city health commissioner Thomas R.] Frieden are successful, we'll all be headed, 300 million lab rats, toward a future with less salt, even more depression, more heart problems, and the health costs to accompany those conditions.

I’m thrilled that smoking has been banned in many public places nationwide, and I like to see calorie counts on menus. But since I don’t have high blood pressure, I don’t worry about salt. I don’t eat a lot of packaged foods and fast food, either.


Do you think Bloomberg is right to crusade against salt in New Yorkers’ food? Or would his energies better be spent elsewhere?


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