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


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

G-Men wrap regular season with loss in Kelowna Saturday

Now, the Langley-based Vancouver Giants prepare for playoffs starting Friday in Victoria.

Colorado steals late victory from Langley lacrosse team

Next match up is against Cowtown during the Stealth country night March 31 at Langley Events Centre.

Seventh annual ball hockey tournament in honour of Langley resident Scott Trapp

The ball hockey tournament raised over $45,000 towards the Canadian Cancer Society

Sneak peak: Aldergrove Community Secondary is hosting a big party May 12

That’s when people can see the school and the historic memorabilia gathered for its 60th anniversary.

Letter: Urban garden best option for under Langley powerlines

A Langley man said the land should be used to help feed people.

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Anti-pipeline protestors block Kinder Morgan tanker near Seattle

Protest was spurred on by the 28 anti-Kinder Morgan activists arrested in Burnaby

B.C. cyclist races to first win of the season in New Zealand

Casey Brown captures Enduro title by more than two minutes at Crankworx Rotorua

Horse found stuck in muddy field rescued in Maple Ridge

Maple Ridge firefighters set up a pulley system to drag the horse to solid ground

VIDEO: Two Maple Ridge contortionists have sights set on Cirque

The Pair competed at the Viva festival in Vegas and are now auditioning for spot on America’s Got Talent

Notorious Russian troll farm also took swipes at Canadian targets

Targets included oil infrastructure and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Cirque du Soleil aerialist dies after fall during Florida show

Longtime performer fell while performing in VOLTA

Canada earns second Paralympic Games silver in 20 years

Held 1-0 lead in para hockey game from 12:06 of first to dying seconds of third and lost in overtime

LETTERS: Two views of oil pipeline protests

U.S. and other petroleum-rich countries aren’t cutting production

Most Read