Less than six months after recommending the average daily intake of sodium for Canadians be cut by nearly 1/3, Canada has canned the working group tasked with making the recommendation a reality – and instead given the task to a group with strong food industry ties.
The recommended daily intake of sodium is 1500 mg; the sodium intake of the average Canadian is 3400 mg (the equivalent of about 1.5 teaspoons of table salt. Ew.) This number is so elevated largely due to the consumption of processed food in the Canadian diet – canned, packaged and restaurant food – containing high sodium levels. The Sodium Working Group was tasked to analyze the sodium intake of Canadians, provide recommendations and carry out implementation and oversight of the government’s sodium reduction strategy over their five-year mandate. Members of the Sodium Working Group task force were therefore taken by surprise on a December conference call when they were informed their services would no longer be required.
Health Canada provided no explanation for the move.
The duties of the task force have been handed over to a group called the Food Regulatory Advisory Committee. Many members of this committee are involved in the food industry, such as Paul Paquin, Vice-President of the Canadian arm of the International Dairy Federation, or Keith Mussar, head of the Food Commitee of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.
With these resumes, it’s clear that these individuals will have more interest in maintaining profits for their respective industries rather than making any wholesale changes to the formulation of packaged foods. In other words, if sodium reduction in food would result in a negative impact to any of their industries, sodium reduction would probably quietly be sacrificed.
Excess sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. However, North American diets are primed to favor salt, so reducing salt in processed foods too quickly would send consumers away in droves, making sodium reduction a tough sell.
Was the Canadian government influenced by food industry lobbyists? Or did they feel the work would be better carried out within the industry? Only time will tell. Until then, all consumers should be familiar with how to read food labels and be aware of their own sodium intake – for their own health.
Photo credit: TooFarNorth on Flickr.