This week, South Africa’s Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced new restrictions on the food industry that would limit the amount of salt that can be added to processed foods.
Just in time for World Health Day, with a focus on Hypertention this year, this announcement by Mosoaledi marks a first in the world; a truly bold move by government to move forward in developing a national sodium reduction strategy.
The new restrictions would require a loaf of bread, which currently contains 9% sodium, to contain about 4.8% by 2016 and be down to 3.8% by 2019. An array of food including bread, butter, breakfast cereals, potato crisps, ready-to-eat snacks, processed meat, sausages, soup powder, gravy powder, two-minute noodles, stock cubes and jelly are all required to contain a whole lot less salt by 2019.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, about 130 South Africans suffer heart attacks and about 240 have strokes every day. South African Medical Research Council, strokes are the third leading cause of death in South Africa, and hypertensive diseases are the seventh.
The new restrictions on salt are an attempt to better control disease linked to high salt consumption and hypertension leading to heart disease, stroke, and vascular dementia.
Food Industry Unhappy
The Food Industry is not happy about it. The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa said it was “shocked and disappointed” that the law had been passed. The main concern is that it hasn’t found salt substitutes to put in its products, saying that changes cost the system a lot of money. Less salt in foods will also mean a shorter shelf life, which in turn will costs consumers.
But health experts are not buying this. Professor Melvyn Freeman, of Wits University Department of Health Non-communicable diseases, it’s important not to replace the salt added to processed foods with salt substitutes, rather, wean people off the salty flavour gradually.
Freeman said the number of South Africans with hypertension – 6.3 million – was one of the highest in the world, and something needs to be done about it. “People with lower salt intake will also live longer, and therefore consume more [food] over the course of their lives,” said Freeman. “So manufacturers can actually make more money that way. For us it’s a bit of a no-brainer.”
A brave move
South Africa appears to be the first country to regulate salt in this fashion. In Canada, there is currently a bill (C-460) put forward by NDP Health critic Libby Davies asking the government to come up with a sodium reduction strategy, including regulating industry.
Most countries, including Canada, are leaving the food industry to “self-regulate”, but experts say this is not working. Canada’s Hypertension Chair Dr. Norm Campbell outlines his reasons for supporting legislation in a blog post last month titled 7 Myths about Bill C-460, The National Sodium Reduction Strategy.