The FDA has decided that your diet is far too savory. It’s disappointed that you haven’t realized this on your own. It’s understandable, of course, since salt has been a staple of the human diet since, oh, long before it was a form of currency. But since you can’t be trusted to fix things yourself, the FDA will do you a favor and fix your food for you.
The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.
Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.
There is presently no statute that justifies the regulation of salt content in food. No rule has ever set a “safe” amount of salt in any given food product. To date, FDA has only required full sodium disclosure, allowing the consumer to make an informed decision about how she will regulate her salt content. But we’re living in a world where EPA has decided that an biologically-benign, indeed botanically-necessary, atmospheric gas is a pollutant requiring massive regulation. It’s not a very far step to prevent Americans from obtaining unlimited amounts of a naturally-occurring mineral that we all need to perform “basic biological functions.”
Although such a justification was not expressly made for this action, the FDA’s agenda here is an early example of how once the government pays for your health care, it makes everything you do the government’s business. If you read the Washington Post article linked above, you may be saying, “Hey, Obamacare isn’t even mentioned in this article!” And you would be right. But the embedded logic of this move by the FDA will be used time and again to authorize the government to make decisions about your diet, your exercise routine, even your sexual habits. That’s because, once the government is paying, it has virtually unlimited authority to condition its payments in ways that would be unconstitutionally coercive in other contexts.
Longstanding Supreme Court precedents, beginning in the New Deal era, have imposed only the flimsiest of boundaries on coercive requirements predicated on the receipt of federal funds. A classic example is the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Dole, upholding Congress’ refusal to give states federal transportation funds until they raised their drinking age to 21. Justice Rehnquist, no less, held that the federal government’s interest in “safe interstate travel” was a sufficiently “reasonable relation” between drinking laws and roadbuilding funds to justify such a condition.
If it makes constitutional sense to parcel out road funds to states on the basis of when their legal adults can drink, how easy will it be for the Feds to justify the regulation of your salt content? With its new mix of subsidies, tax breaks, mandates, and health care “marketplaces,” the federal government now has a monetary interest in how healthy you are. If you are sick — or even if you’re not as healthy as you could be — that’s a matter of public concern. We need to reduce the deficit — how better to do that than by reducing your salt content, making it less likely that the Treasury has to finance your heart transplant? Far more inherently-risky activities — unprotected sex, smoking, drinking, even rock-climbing — could easily be outlawed on the basis of their threat to the government’s balance sheet.
That’s the dirty secret behind government health care — while it’s been sold as a response to the outrage of insurers’ heartless use of America’s preexisting conditions as a basis for higher rates, everyone knows that the only way to reduce health care costs is to change Americans’ behaviors. Insurers try to do that with a mixture of carrot (rate reductions for gym memberships) and stick (higher premiums for type 2 diabetes patients), but in the end, it’s our choice. Not so with government, which can perform the same task by using its regulatory power to prevent you from making those unhealthy decisions altogether – or else.
Of course, the government might decide that it’s cheaper to let you eat all the salt you want — and then refuse you that transplant. Who is cheaper to care for, after all — a healthy person or a dead one?