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Voluntary regs not delivering on salt cuts in bread, says Australian report

By Jane Byrne , 25-Nov-2010

Less than half of bread products in Australian supermarkets have acceptable salt levels, according to a report published this week by Sydney based, The George Institute for Global Health, and it claims enforcement might be the answer.

The authors said their study, Sodium Content of Australian Bread Products 2007-2010, reveals that salt levels in Australian bread products have not changed since 2007 despite the government’s ‘Food and Health Dialogue’ focusing on salt, and some companies acting on their commitments to reduce salt in their products.

The report concludes that overall average sodium levels in Australian bread products have not changed between 2007 (434mg/100g) and 2010 (436mg/100g).

The authors said that their findings do not inspire confidence in the current approach to salt reduction in bread which relies upon voluntary action by industry: “It is particularly concerning that despite the Food and Health Dialogue making salt reduction a priority and bread a first target, there appears to be little progress.

If the voluntary approach advocated by industry and supported by government cannot deliver salt reduction then regulation will be required,” concludes the study.

The Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) launched a campaign to reduce population salt intake in May 2007 and has been calling on the food industry to reduce salt in processed foods. Bread products contribute significantly to salt in the Australian diet, accounting for about a quarter of salt intake in the Australian population, according to The George Institute.

The Food and Health Dialogue, established by the Australian government in March 2009 as a reformulation working group, has published sodium targets for bread and breakfast cereals. However, according to Professor Bruce Neal, senior director at The George Institute for Global Health, much more needs to be done.

“The Dialogue is now in its second year and has only established salt targets for bread and breakfast cereals. This doesn’t bode well for salt reduction let alone all the other food supply issues that need tackling like sugar, saturated fat and serving sizes.”

Neal said that some companies have shown a real commitment to improve the nutritional value of their products. “George Weston Foods, manufacturer of brands such as ‘Tip Top’ and ‘Burgen’, have decreased the levels of salt across their entire bread range to meet the government’s target. Other companies need to follow their excellent example,” he said.

He added that the he George Institute has established a database to monitor industry salt reduction efforts and the success or failure of the Food and Health Dialogue.

Neal argues that in the UK, Canada and the US, targets have been set for 80 food types with significant progress made in reducing salt intake. “In the UK voluntary targets introduced in 2006 have led to a reduction in salt intake of 10 per cent, saving an estimated 6,000 lives every year,” he continued.

“Government and industry here in Australia seem intent on very slowly re-inventing the wheel rather than learning from what has been successfully achieved in other countries. This is going to cost a lot of money and a lot of lives.

The Food and Health Dialogue should be urging food companies to reduce salt levels in foods in line with targets already set overseas and then work with the Australian industry to consider Australian specific targets for the few product categories that might require a different approach in Australia,” added Neal.