Let Them Eat Salt, Says Health Canada
Health Canada is consistent. They ignored the recommendations of their own advisory panel by ending the monitoring of trans fats in processed food. They are doing the same thing with salt.
The agency claims Canadians consume an average of 3400 mg of sodium every day. For people 14 and over, they want to reduce that to 2300 mg per day by 2016.
The likelihood of achieving that goal is slim. The 3400 mg figure is based on self reporting. According to the summary of a report obtained by Postmedia News, average use may be nearly twice that. Researchers for an Eastern Ontario study performed the 24-hour urine test on 344 adults between the ages of 40 and 69. The results showed an average sodium consumption of 6014 mg per day.
Sodium consumption likely falls somewhere between the two figures, but the earlier figure was already alarming. So in 2007 Health Canada convened the Sodium Working Group to develop strategies for reducing Canadians’ sodium consumption.
The committee was made up of “members from food manufacturing and food service groups, health-focused non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, consumer advocacy groups, health professional organizations and various government departments and agencies.” Including industry representatives was important since approximately 80 percent of the sodium in Canadians’ diets comes from processed food.
A million dollars and more than two years later, the working group released its report, Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada. Their first recommendation was a “structured voluntary approach” that set timelines for industry to meet suggested targets. To ensure compliance, the working group called for independent monitoring and evaluation.
Next: Health Minister Refuses to Hold Industry to High Standards
The Conservative Government’s health minister did not need to read further. Minister Aglukkaq is a good party member. She shares the Tories’ distaste for requiring industry to adhere to health-promoting standards.
The remainder of the observations and recommendations were an expensive exercise in futility. Two years after the report was released, Health Canada is treating it like one more costly boondoggle instead of a blueprint for reducing salt consumption.
In an open letter to the Auditor General dated July 24, 2012, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa, took Health Canada to task for its pattern of striking committees and then completely disregarding their findings. He did not ask the Auditor General to rule on the scientific validity of the reports. He did ask why millions of taxpayer dollars were being spent on advisory panels and surveillance programs whose recommendations were subsequently ignored.
Of the Sodium Working Group and its two dozen recommendations, he wrote:
8 months later and Health Canada announced that rather than follow the expert recommendations they themselves commissioned (at a reported cost of $1,000,000), that they would instead seek further guidance from the Food Expert Advisory Committee – a committee with strong ties to the food industry – and that the Working Group was to be disbanded. This led one member of the original working group to state,
“What’s the government doing? They got the group of experts and industry people together and spent three years putting together a strategy. Now they’re trying to find some other people to give them a different strategy? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
No it doesn’t. And it also costs us a great deal of money.
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Continued high levels of salt consumption are increasing the risks of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. The tally for treating those and other diet-related issues is threatening to bankrupt health systems.
Referring to a report published in the April 16th issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Normal Campbell said:
These high levels [of sodium] indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry. Salt reduction programs need to guide industry and oversee it with targets and timelines for foods, monitoring and evaluation, and stronger regulatory measures if the structured voluntary efforts are not effective.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is consistent. She continues to ignore expert advice on food policy, particularly if it entails holding the food industry to higher standards. As Sarah Schmidt points out in her article for Postmedia News:
Aglukkaq objected to the plan because it would have outed food companies for failing to meet specific sodium-reduction targets for individual products, and called for regulations to be considered if voluntary measures fail.
The food industry must love having a health minister on their side. It is too bad Canadians don’t have one on theirs.
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