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Huge differences in salt levels found in global food brands

By Guy Montague-Jones, 23-Jul-2009

Related topics: Market Trends

New research on salt levels in global products from some of the biggest food manufacturers has revealed wide and random variations.

In a survey of 260 global food products from manufacturers such as Nestle, KFC and Kellogg’s, World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) found that people in some countries are being fed over twice as much salt in popular global brands as their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Illogical variations

Moreover, spokesperson Katharine Jenner told Food Navigator that more often than not there was no logic behind the differences.

Kellogg’s All Bran, for example, contains 2.15g of salt per 100g in Canada, but only 0.65g of salt per 100g just over the border in the US, less than a third of the Canadian level.

KFC in New Zealand throws up one of the most inexplicable differences. The KFC Twister product in New Zealand has the lowest salt content per portion in the global survey, whereas its Fillet Burger has the highest.

Jenner said KFC may well not be aware of this difference. She said these variations seem to have no good reasons behind them and are most likely to be the random consequence of local manufacturing choices.

Only in some cases were differences in legislation, consumer pressure, and local preferences reasonable explanations for the variations.

Jenner said: “In the UK and Australia, where there has been a concerted effort to reduce salt content, some of the lowest salt levels were observed.”

Most of the companies surveyed displayed wide variations in salt levels, with the exception of Nestle, whose brands had very consistent salt levels throughout Europe. Jenner said this proves that an acceptably low level of salt can be agreed upon and applied consistently across the supply chain in countries with different local preferences.

Health and ethical concerns

A difference in salt levels between borders and within brands is also a serious health concern.

The World Health Organization recommends that per capita daily salt consumption should not exceed five grams, but average intake is between 9 and 12 grams, increasing the threat of hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

 

These health worries therefore raise certain ethical questions about the differences observed in salt content across the globe.

“It is very hypocritical for manufacturers to make healthy claims about their products whilst unnecessarily adding to worldwide health inequalities,” said WASH chairman Professor Graham MacGregor. “A gradual reduction in salt can easily be done across all products in all countries. We urge manufacturers to make these reductions not just in a few fortunate countries, but across the world”