This week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) redoubled its decades-old campaign to cut America’s salt consumption in half. In February, CSPI filed a bogus lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to force the agency to systematically reduce salt in packaged food. After the lawsuit aparently stalled in court, the nutrition cops at CSPI went back to the salt mine and wrote a formal petition to the FDA requesting:

[T]hat the FDA initiate a rulemaking: (1) to revoke the Generally Recognized as Safe (“GRAS”) status of salt, (2) to amend any prior sanctions for salt, (3) to require food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium in all processed foods — both packaged foods sold at retail and foods sold directly to restaurants, (4) to require health messages on retail packages of salt one-half ounce or larger and (5) to reduce the Daily Value for sodium from its current level of 2,400 mg to 1,500 mg.

CSPI’s logic is clear — and should be taken with a giant grain of salt: Americans like the taste of salt too much for their own good, and only the government can protect them from their own tastes. That’s the same reasoning found in a recent comment published in the influential Lancet medical journal titled: “Is public health coercive health?” The articles’ author, British National Health Service researcher Rachel Cottam, seems to argue that the answer is “no.” In her view, coercion sets us free. Cottam writes:

“Nanny” need not infantilise us, but offer succour and guidance. Similarly, the interventions of the government make it possible to be virtuous by protecting us from that version of ourselves that is preyed on by the worst excesses of the market.

Cottam blames big bad corporations and implies that individual choice is little more than a fantasy. She insists:

[I]t is in the corporate boardrooms and marketing suites that appetites are cooked up: “individual choices” are never natural or a priori, but have always been manipulated or at least carefully directed.

We always assumed that when we went to the supermarket and selected from among the thousands of items (high or low fiber, high or low fat, high or low calorie density, high or low salt, high or low sugar, etc.), or chose entrees on a restaurant menu, we were exercising individual choice. Do Cottam and CSPI believe that people would stop liking salty foods if only corporations stopped selling them? That claim is particularly hard to believe given that companies are trying to reduce sodium content in many foods. As The Independent recently reported in a story on these efforts, “leading companies warned that further reductions may not be possible because the resulting lack of taste in foods would put customers off.”