John Tate is president of the Campaign for Liberty and the national political director of Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign.
The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) idea for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate sodium levels in processed food and restaurant servings, supposedly in an effort to prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease, appears to be another excuse from Washington to justify its ever expanding intervention into our lives.
While no one is protesting the laudable intent of encouraging healthier living, there are a number of problems with the IOM's proposal. The main issue is the further undermining of what were once considered quintessential American characteristics—personal responsibility and freedom of choice. Government action "for our own good" has sent us barreling down the slippery slope toward authoritarianism.
Let's first consider some of the medical issues relevant to this undertaking. Salt contains minerals necessary for proper body function. The sodium in salt is an electrolyte, and the balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for our cells and organs to work normally. Sodium regulates water in the body, and sodium's movement through cells in the body is critical.
Supporters of intervention are focusing on the overconsumption of salt. Point taken. However, the problem of overconsumption derives more from personal choice than from sodium intake under circumstances beyond one's control, such as when large amounts of sodium were added to food products without information to consumers.
People are presented with all the data needed to make an informed decision. Warnings about excessive sodium abound. Product labels list the amount of sodium each serving contains. Restaurants are increasingly supplying nutritional guides. The responsibility lies with the consumer on how to act on this knowledge.
Most Americans do not seem to be choosing to restrict their own salt intake, and the FDA is looking to use this outcome to justify intervening in everyone's food choices "for our own good." But no amount of such intervention will ever force people to make good choices. What will regulators do if this idea doesn't work? Resort to policing salt intake within people's own homes? Where does dictating the actions of others "for their own good" end?
Another argument made by those who favor increased regulation is that our healthcare system can no longer afford the cost of treating people whose conditions stem from poor lifestyle choices. Thus, it is reasoned, government would only be acting in America's best interest. However, this position ignores that healthcare costs have skyrocketed precisely because of government interference. The answer to a problem does not lie with creating more of what caused it.
The only way to limit costs is to end that intervention. The same energy, time, and resources devoted to enforcing FDA regulations and feeding Washington's massive healthcare bureaucracy could instead go toward promoting healthier living on a private level. Returning to Americans the tax dollars currently used to finance these aspects of government would give them not only more money to spend on their own healthcare but more to use—through organizations and other efforts—to increase awareness of the dangers of excessive sodium.
Ultimately, the risk we take by trusting Americans to make their own decisions is significantly less than the sacrifice we make by continuing to excuse actions by a government that has repeatedly proven its total disregard for the limits imposed by the Constitution.
Read why foods' salt content should be regulated by the government, by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.