Food industry failing at voluntary sodium reduction: Health Canada

Health Canada report shows the food industry made no meaningful progress in curtailing salt levels

Voluntary sodium targets for the food industry have failed to significantly reduce the amount of salt consumers are getting in processed foods, suggesting additional measures are needed, Health Canada says.

Four years ago, the federal department introduced phased-in targets for cutting sodium in 94 categories of processed food, with the goal of meeting that objective by the end of 2016.

But a Health Canada report shows the food industry made no meaningful progress in curtailing salt levels in 45 of those categories (48 per cent) — based on a 2017 evaluation of about 10,500 sample products. In six of those categories, sodium content actually increased.

In all, products in only 14 per cent of the categories hit their targets, the report found.

“This is a release that shows, somewhat dismally, that industry really did not reduce their products down to the target and timelines that were indicated,” Dr. Norm Campbell, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, said Tuesday.

Campbell was a member of the federally established Sodium Working Group, which made a number of recommendations in 2010 for lowering salt in Canadians’ diets, including the use of incremental voluntary reductions.

The goal was to start by cutting the average per capita intake of salt to 2,300 milligrams a day by the end of 2016, although 1,500 milligrams is considered ideal for maintaining good health.

However, statistics show that about 80 per cent of Canadians consume more than 2,300 mg daily, with 93 per cent of children aged four to eight and 97 per cent of teenaged boys also exceeding the recommended sodium intake. In fact, the average Canadian ingests an average about 3,400 mg of sodium each day.

Processed foods account for 77 per cent of dietary sodium intake, with breads, processed meats, soups, cheeses, mixed dishes and sauces the top contributors.

“Ingesting excess sodium puts Canadians at risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease,” said Campbell, a founding member of Hypertension Canada.

More than 7.5 million Canadians have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and about one-third of those cases can be attributed to salt in the diet, he said, noting that dietary sodium is responsible for an estimated 10,000 deaths in Canada each year.

Health Canada saidadditional measures are needed to lower sodium in processed foods, and it will be proposing regulations to make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

That could include an ongoing monitoring program and front-of-package nutrition labelling, restrictions on marketing to children under age 13, and a requirement that food manufacturers make public commitments to salt reduction.

“Health Canada is planning to propose a regulatory approach that would require a symbol on the front of packaged foods that are high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat,” the report said. ”In addition, it may encourage manufacturers of foods in some of the categories to reformulate their products to contain less sodium and, thus, avoid the requirement to display the symbol.”

The organization representing the country’s food industry said that based on the Health Canada report, it recognizes ”there is still room for improvement” in cutting sodium in products.

“It is important to remember, however, that lowering sodium levels in food and beverage products is a complex undertaking, a balance between technical feasibility and consumer acceptance, requiring both time and flexibility to achieve,” Food and Consumer Products of Canada said in a statement.

“Sodium has a number of uses for which suitable alternatives must be developed. In addition to enhancing taste, sodium plays a functional role in food safety, preservation and texture. … Lowering sodium levels also requires adjusting consumers’ tastes and preferences for sodium, which can often require smaller reductions over time as consumers adapt to each successive reduction.”

Campbell acknowledged that Canada’s food system is highly complex, but he said some countries have succeeded in getting manufacturers to decrease salt content in processed foods.

“In the U.K., they have a very strong advocacy group that does a lot of naming and shaming, and they’ve also had very close monitoring and oversight from their government, with the threat of regulations,” he said.

Argentina gave its food industry voluntary targets, but said regulation would occur if those goals weren’t achieved within a specified period, giving producers the flexibility to choose how to implement changes.

“That’s my favourite approach and that’s currently the one that I would recommend to (the government),” Campbell said. “I think we want our industry to have flexibility, but we also want them to get the job done.”

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Greater Victoria School District adopts new dress code policy

Two years in the making, SD61 moves to more inclusionary guidelines

Esquimalt council green-lights first mass-timber building on Vancouver Island

Mayor appreciates 12-storey structure’s proximity to naval base, graving dock and Seaspan

Legal action against B.C. specualtion tax a last resort

Group of Arizona home owners feel they’ve been swept up in an attack on land speculators

Sooke makes call for regional fire dispatch

Some municipalities decide to take service off-Island

Rock the Rink gives youth once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Winning band will get to play a set at Rock the Shores

Parents call for change to health laws after Oak Bay teen’s death

Accidental overdose has Elliot Eurchuk’s parents seeking change to B.C Infants Act

Amalgamation Yes hosting citizen’s assembly info meeting Wednesday at Vic High

Mayors of Victoria and Saanich will be on hand to give updates to residents

Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates death of B.C. man

Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of 41-year-old Sebastian Woodroffe

Toronto police officer ‘gave himself the space and time’ in van attack

Footage shows officer standing up, turning off his siren and talking clearly to the suspect

$1.18 to $1.58 a litre: Are you paying the most for gas in B.C.?

Gas prices across B.C. vary, with lowest in Vernon and highest in – you guessed it – Metro Vancouver

UPDATE: Saanich cracks down on owners of unsightly property

Council’s decision came despite public pleas from affected owners

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of April 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Public can weigh in on Cordova Bay Local Area Plan

The District of Saanich is in the process of updating the Cordova… Continue reading

Inquest set 10 years after B.C. woman shot, left to die

Lisa Dudley, and her partner, Guthrie McKay were shot in their Mission home in September 2008

Most Read