Salt's Moment Of Reckoning

This article is more than 11 years old.

Salt has been under attack lately, and Michael Moss sums up the battle cries, and the salt industry's aggressive and often covert defense strategy, nicely in today's New York Times. With public health officials and others clamoring for a sharp decrease in consumption, salt's "moment of reckoning" has arrived, Moss declares. Here, he enumerates some of the reasons that the debate over reducing the amount of salt in food has become so shrill, and the tactics the industry is using to keep their products tasty and profitable:

High blood pressure is rising among adults and children. Government health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year.

Since processed foods account for most of the salt in the American diet, national health officials, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Michelle Obama are urging food companies to greatly reduce their use of salt. Last month, the Institute of Medicine went further, urging the government to force food companies to do so.

But the industry is working overtly and behind the scenes to fend off these attacks, using a shifting set of tactics that have defeated similar efforts for 30 years, records and interviews show. Industry insiders call the strategy “delay and divert” and say companies have a powerful incentive to fight back: they crave salt as a low-cost way to create tastes and textures. Doing without it risks losing customers, and replacing it with more expensive ingredients risks losing profits.

Moss offers this example of a major food company's over-the-top promotional campaign for salt:

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

So, who do you think will prevail?

This program aired on May 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.