The scarlet NaCl

April 21st, 2010  |  Tags: , , ,

I suspect that most federal appointees and policymakers would claim to have a dim view of “legislating morality,” if asked point-blank about the matter. But this is clearly not the case: some spheres of morality are more than ripe for regulation, legislation, and public shamings for those who offend the sensibilities of our betters.

Consider salt, which has had a rough few months: first, it was the target of a bill in the New York State Assembly intending to outlaw its use by restaurants. Now the FDA has decided that we aren’t capable of reading nutrition-information labels and that they must change the public’s taste for salty foods by ratcheting down permissible salt levels in commercially-prepared food over time:

“This is a 10-year program,” one source said. “This is not rolling off a log. We’re talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We’re talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people.”

(The linked article is also notable for mentioning that the “director for technical and regulatory affairs at the Salt Institute” is a man named Morton Satin, which is one of the best vocational aptonyms of all time. When it rains, it pours, I guess.)

The difference between this sort of decision — to change the tastes of a generation by bringing several industries under the gradually-tightening yoke of regulation — and most government actions conventionally considered to be “legislating morality” is one of essence, not of degree. In the latter case, by outlawing (for example) dogfighting or prostitution, government actions merely codify overwhelming public sentiment. In the case of salt (or related issues, like CAFE standards for cars or what sorts of light bulbs one should use), policymakers perceive their actions as necessary to override overwhelming public sentiment.