Heart Foundation calls for mandatory salt and saturated fat levels in processed foods

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th November 2012

The National Heart Foundation of Australia is calling on the Australian government and the food industry to enforce mandatory nutrition targets to make processed foods healthier.

Apart from requesting that the Australian government enforce mandatory category-specific nutrient targets for processed foods, the National Heart Foundation is also urging the Australian government to develop a mandatory front-of-pack labelling system. The National Heart Foundation has also requested that the Australian government fund a social-marketing consumer education campaign that focuses on reducing salt and saturated fats in food.

The Heart Foundation is also calling on Australian food companies to do their part to reduce salt and saturated fat levels in foods. The food industry has been asked to apply the Food and Health Dialogue’s targets to all food products. Further, the National Heart Foundation wants the food industry to reformulate existing products in addition to formulating new products with reduced levels of salt and saturated fat.

According to the National Heart Foundation, processed foods account for approximately 75% of total food sales, with supermarket shelves containing around 40,000–55,000 individual food products.

These calls follow the release of the Heart Foundation’s new paper, Effectiveness of food reformulation as a strategy to improve population health, which reveals that removing 15 – 25 per cent of the salt in Australia’s processed foods over 10 years, could avert 5,800-9,700 heart attacks and 4,900-8,200 strokes every year.

The National Heart Foundation paper reports that a mandatory approach to salt reformulation is “twice as cost effective and averts twice the burden of disease” compared to a voluntary approach. It also argues that “even a modest salt reduction (1-3grams per day) in the population’s diet is shown to have potential health benefits.”

Heart Foundation CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, said excess salt, saturated fat and trans fats found in processed foods were causing an unnecessary national heart health crisis.

“Government enforced mandatory targets for all processed food products would be far more transparent and effective at improving health than the voluntary opt-in approach we’ve seen to date,” Dr Roberts said.

“Setting maximum levels of unhealthy ingredients in all processed foods will ensure food manufacturers make their products healthier, making a huge difference to our nation’s health.”

Reformulating current and new processed foods involves manufacturers reducing ingredients such as salt, saturated fat and trans fats in their products and increasing “healthier” nutrients such as dietary fibre, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fats.

Dr Roberts acknowledged the food industry’s progress to date through their voluntary involvement in the Australian Government’s Food and Health Dialogue, but said mandatory targets set by government were ultimately the best way to make the biggest health improvements.

“After three years of the food reformulation program in Australia, we only have six categories targets in place, while the UK has targets for 80 categories and sub categories,” Dr Roberts said.

“For those who are resisting the changes, we only need to look to the UK to see how in 10 years they successfully reduced salt in the average adults’ diet by 1.5 grams.”

The National Heart Foundation is seeking mandatory nutrition targets across processed foods, specific to each food category, not a blanket approach. The National Heart Foundation is also seeking that targets be progressively implemented with incremental changes made over a number of years.

Dr Roberts also added any food reformulation program must be part of a broader strategy including a mandatory front-of-pack labelling system and comprehensive social marketing campaigns, as well as being prominently featured in the National Food Plan currently under development.

“We are calling for a supercharged approach to food reformulation with additional expert staff, a dedicated unit focused on reformulation and better monitoring and reporting arrangements,” Dr Roberts said.