The zeal to recommend extreme reductions in sodium…is a case of ideology replacing good science.” Is this the statement of some right-wing newspaper columnist or food industry executive? No. This is Dr. Salim Yusuf, the Heart and Stroke Foundation chair in Cardio- vascular Disease at McMaster Univer- sity, arguing that there has been far too much focus on the policy of sodium reduction as a means to curb cardio- vascular disease. Immediately, another leading Canadian scientist, Dr. Norman Campbell of the University of Calgary, came out swinging, not only disputing Yusuf’s science as having “fatal flaws,” but getting down in the scientific gutter questioning his competence in the field by claiming that Yusuf “is way off his expertise…he doesn’t have a strong understanding of what the evidence is.” Not to be outdone, Yusuf countered that while he considers that Campbell is well-meaning, the poor chap is basing his dramatic public health measures on “scant” evidence. Moreover, “Norman has been one of those — in polite terms — evangelists about sodium — in impolite terms, Talibans about sodium.” Them’s fighting words!
With this level of “scientific” debate, what’s the consumer or policy-maker to do? Only two years ago sodium reduction was widely presented as an area of relatively settled science, and senior managers (and the minister) were criticized for not follow- ing more aggressively their scientists’ advice to get tougher with the food industry.