Australian bread: the salt wars

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 25th November 2010

A report by Sydney based The George Institute for Global Health, released yesterday, says that despite the government’s Food and Health Dialogue, salt levels in Australian bread products have not changed since 2007.

Bread has recently become a target for sodium reduction, with one fifth of daily salt intake for Australians coming through bread, and daily salt intake between five and 10 times that required for good health.

The report comes just two days after the Australian Food and Grocery Council congratulated the food industry on its salt reduction efforts in cereals, and on committments already made to reduce salt in bread by 2014.

The Federal government’s Food and Health Dialogue, established in 2009, sets out to deliver a ”framework for government, health groups and industry to work collaboratively across the food supply chain to improve dietary intakes.”

However, according to The George Institute’s Senior Director, Professor Bruce Neal, much more needs to be done.

“The Dialogue is now in its second year and has only established salt targets for bread and breakfast cereals. This doesn’t bode well for salt reduction let alone all the other food supply issues that need tackling like sugar, saturated fat and serving sizes,” he said.

Neal said that in the UK, Canada and the US, targets have been set for 80 food types with significant progress made in reducing salt intake, but that Australia was lagging.

“Government and industry here in Australia seem intent on very slowly re-inventing the wheel rather than learning from what has been successfully achieved in other countries.  This is going to cost a lot of money and a lot of lives. The Food and Health Dialogue should be urging food companies to reduce salt levels in foods in line with targets already set overseas  and then work with the Australian industry to consider Australian specific targets for the few product categories that might require a different approach in Australia” he said.

“Some companies have shown a real commitment to improve the nutritional value of their products. George Weston Foods, manufacturer of brands such as ‘Tip Top’ and ‘Burgen’, have decreased the levels of salt across their entire bread range to meet the government’s target. Other companies need to follow their excellent example,” said Neal.

“The George Institute has established a database to monitor industry salt reduction efforts and the success or failure of the Food and Health Dialogue.  We are going to ensure that industry and government are held accountable.  Australians need to know what is and is not being achieved and by who,” he added.

“Those responsible for the food supply have a huge impact on the nation’s health. Making sure these companies understand their responsibility and ensuring they are accountable to their customers for their actions is an important step forward,” concluded Professor Neal.

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell rejected the George Institute’s claims, saying that the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) study showed the number of breads meeting the 400mg/100g target set by the Food and Health Dialogue rose from 29 per cent in 2007 to 48 per cent in 2010.

“Almost half of the breads on Australian supermarket shelves now meet the sodium reduction levels agreed to by the industry, retailer and government partnership called the Food and Health Dialogue,” Carnell said.

“Coles and Goodman Fielder have signed up to the salt roundtable on bread and have plans to deliver on the agreed target.”

“Industry will continue to proactively working with Government to target areas where salt can be further reduced,” Carnell said.