The petition was launched by Nicholas Jones, father of 15-year-old Matty who suffers from chronic kidney disease (CKD). The disease, which affects almost two million (1,739,443) adults in England alone, leaves him unable to manage potassium levels in the blood, meaning he is at risk of heart failure and death.
This includes potassium that has been added to food for fortification purposes, potassium-chloride based sodium replacers, preservatives such as potassium sorbate or naturally occurring potassium. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, avocadoes and beans.
Mandatory labelling would end the "nightmare" that packaged and processed food represents for CKD sufferers, Nicholas Jones told FoodNavigator.
"Without food labelling including potassium levels, every time we pick up any food other than raw ingredients we are faced with a dilemma because we can’t know what is in it. This is made worse because the food industry has a habit of adding potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride to keep down the salt levels on their labelling. We just want to be able to give Matty a good varied diet with the confidence of knowing what he is eating and that he is safe.
“Raw ingredients are measured and can be found on Google and other sources – and we do carefully manage everything we prepare at home - but prepared food of any kind is a nightmare,” Jones told FoodNavigator.
Jones has launched two petitions on the subject urging the UK government to make it compulsory for food manufacturers to label potassium content on packaged food.
A duel petition on Change.org has so far received 205,944 signatures while the second one, which has garnered 3,952 signatures so far and will run until 25 October 2016, is a parliamentary petition made directly to the UK government.
If it receives more than 10,000 signatures the government will respond. At 100,000 signatures, parliamentary petitions are considered for debate in the Houses of Parliament.
A third petition on change.org is asking the UK government to authorise a drug, Eculizumab, which could help treat Matty’s condition. The drug is used by National Health Service (NHS) doctors in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe but not England, where the Jones family lives. "[This is] the most important petition for us - to get treatment for Matty," said Jones.
Potassium labelling now mandatory in the USA
Current EU labelling requirements for potassium are voluntary, and may be labelled on packaged food nutrition tables if it is present "in significant amounts", with the nutrient reference value for potassium set at 2000 mg.
Food industry group FoodDrinkEurope has published labelling guidelines to aid manufacturers on the subject.
Meanwhile, last Friday the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) unveiled its finalised Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods, which will require potassium and vitamin D to be listed on the label. Calcium and iron will continue to be required while vitamins A and C are no longer be required but can be included on a voluntary basis.
However the reasoning behind the new potassium labelling requirements is due to deficiencies in the American diet of the mineral.
“Vitamin D and potassium are nutrients Americans don’t always get enough of, according to nationwide food consumption surveys and when lacking, are associated with increased risk of chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health, and potassium helps to lower blood pressure,” it said.
“The new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.”
Manufacturers have until 26 July 2018 to comply with the requirements which also apply to imported goods.
WHO guidelines recommend consuming less than 2000 mg of sodium and at least 3510 mg of potassium per day, but a 16,000-strong four-nation survey published last year found only 0.5% of people in Mexico, France the US and UK, meet guidelines at best.
However, the study also said that reformulation was not suitable for increasing potassium intake and so efforts should focus on eating more potassium-rich sources such as beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruit or fish.