Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Attention-seeker targets restaurant over salt

Doctors recommend against eating more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Order a Denny's double cheeseburger and you'll consume 3,880 milligrams in one sitting, almost double the suggested daily allowance of salt. Denny's meals "are dangerously high in sodium," according to a lawsuit filed last week by a New Jersey man with the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group active in nutrition and food safety issues, the LA Times reports.

Nutrition advocates have won legislative and corporate lobbying battles to rid most of the food industry of artery-clogging trans fats and to compel restaurant chains in some cities and states to reveal the calorie counts of their foods. Now, they're turning their guns on salt. "We have clear and convincing evidence that sodium is associated with high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke — and it is pretty consistent across populations and ethnic groups," said Dr. David Katz, a preventive medicine specialist at Yale University Medical School. "It is unconscionable that a single meal would have 2,000 milligrams or more of sodium," Katz said, reports Times writer Jerry Hirsch.

The New Jersey Superior Court lawsuit alleges that Denny's heavy use of salt puts "the restaurant chain's customers at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke." The lawsuit asks the court to order Denny's to list the sodium content of its food on the menu and warn about the hazards of consuming salt in high doses.

Denny's Corp. called the suit "frivolous and without merit."

"With hundreds of items on the menu, Denny's offers a wide variety of choices for consumers with different lifestyles, understanding that many have special dietary needs," said the company, which has about 1,500 restaurants nationwide.

Salt-laden selections include the Meat Lover's Scramble, an amalgamation of cheese, eggs, bacon, diced ham and sausage that comes with more meat on the side plus hash browns and pancakes. The meal has 5,690 milligrams of sodium — the equivalent of nearly three days' advised maximum salt intake. A scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese meal on the Denny's "senior" menu has 2,060 milligrams of sodium.

Such heavy intake could trigger congestive heart failure in some high-risk patrons, said Dr. Stephen Havas, adjunct professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed the lawsuit after private talks with Denny's failed to persuade the chain to make the kind of broad sodium reductions or menu disclosures that the group urged, said Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director. "For those Americans who should be most careful about limiting their sodium, such as people middle-aged and older, African Americans, or people with existing high blood pressure, it's dangerous to eat at Denny's," Jacobson said, the Times reports

The group also has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to regulate salt as a food additive instead of an ingredient that is "generally regarded as safe." Such a change would make it easier to regulate sodium levels in food, such as by limiting the amounts permitted in various food categories.

Although they acknowledge that excessive sodium consumption is a problem in America, health experts aren't necessarily lining up with Jacobson's group and its publicity-grabbing lawsuits. Katz, the Yale doctor, said that by focusing so intently on salt, nutrition advocates risk de-emphasizing greater dangers to public health, such as the high number of calories people consume daily.


Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

Eating meat is a natural human activity — that is, we are biologically omnivorous. In my view, this makes it entirely moral for human beings to eat meat. How that meat is obtained is important. Human exceptionalism — a concept denied in animal-rights ideology — holds that we have a duty to treat animals humanely. Arguments can certainly be made that factory farms are not humane, although they do provide important human benefits of inexpensive and nutritious food. Many opponents of factory farms don’t have to worry about food prices when feeding their families. Still, there is “humane meat,” advocated by Matthew Scully in Dominion, which is more expensive but is raised on Old McDonald–type farms with humane methods of slaughter.

I consider vegetarianism for moral reasons akin to a vow of chastity by monastics: It eschews a normal human activity for higher moral purposes. That is to be admired. But no monastic would or should say that his vow of chastity makes him morally superior to married people who have sex. Similarly, vegetarians’ decision to refrain from eating meat does not make them morally superior to people who do eat meat.

In Dominion, Scully does indeed come at his advocacy from an animal-welfare (as opposed to an animal-rights) perspective. But he is barely on the right side of the line because he is indifferent to the human good derived from animal industries and animal use.

He also claims that the ideology doesn’t matter in this debate. That is absolutely wrong. Animal-welfare philosophy supports human exceptionalism; animal-rights philosophy disdains that approach and rejects human exceptionalism as “speciesist.” There is a huge difference between the two. Whether we believe human beings have a unique moral status in the world has tremendous implications for human rights and human flourishing. Indeed, it could be the most important ethical and moral issue of the 21st century.


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