‘World Salt Awareness Week’ triggers debate on ‘hidden salt’ in Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th March 2013

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has responded to claims that Australian processed foods for children contain ‘unacceptably high’ levels of salt. The claims were made this week in research published by Australian consumer group CHOICE, which was based on research by the George Institute for Global Health.

‘World Salt Awareness Week’, which runs from 11 March 2013 to 17 March 2013, has triggered fierce debate in Australia about ‘hidden salt’ in food.

The average Australian consumes about 9 grams of salt every day and ‘hidden salt’ in foods has risen by 9 per cent in the three years prior to 2012, according to another report by the George Institute for Global Health. The recommended daily intake of salt is 6 grams. According to the Heart Foundation Australia, excess salt is to blame for raised blood pressure, and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The AFGC’s CEO Gary Dawson in rejecting the claims that foods marketed at children were high in salt, said that the food manufacturing industry is taking the lead on reformulation through voluntary initiatives, saying that salt levels in children’s snack foods are “neither harmful nor hidden as falsely claimed by CHOICE”.

“Levels of salt and other nutrients and energy are clearly displayed through the industry led Daily Intake Guide (DIG) thumbnails on a wide variety of foods, including snack foods,” said Mr Dawson.

“As about three quarters of the salt eaten by Australians comes from processed foods rather than salt added at the table, the most effective way to cut salt is to change the ways foods are manufactured,” Tony Thirlwell, CEO of the NSW branch of the Heart Foundation said.

The research published by CHOICE on 11 March 2013 examined the nutritional content of more than 240 products aimed at, or likely to be consumed by, children.

Of the breakfast cereals and lunch box snacks surveyed, CHOICE found that 20 per cent were classified as high in salt, nearly 60 per cent had medium levels and only 20 per cent were classified as low in salt.

Professor Bruce Neal of the George Institute said that salt is a leading cause of ill health in Australians, pushing blood pressure up from childhood.

“Recommended intake levels for children are much lower than for adults so this data is very concerning. This calls for much tougher action to control the food industry, so it is not profiting at the expense of our children’s health,” Professor Neal said.

According to CHOICE Food Policy Advisor, Ms Angela McDougall children need very little salt to stay healthy and should be eating much less of it than adults.

“Experts say the taste for salt is learned and feeding children food that is high in salt is setting them up for a life-time of poor and unhealthy habits,” Ms McDougall said.

According the AFGC, the most recent data from the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey shows that breakfast cereals contribute only about 4 to 5 per cent of Australian children’s sodium intake.

In November 2012, the Heart Foundation Australia called the Australian government to introduce  mandatory nutrition targets – including salt levels.

In December 2012, the Heart Foundation Australia added a ‘SaltSwitch’ feature to their mobile phone app ‘FoodSwitch’, which allows consumers to scan the barcode of a food they’re considering buying or eating, and then shows them nutritional information about that product.

Australian Food News reported in February 2013 that the Australian Government had reached an agreement with food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels in savoury crackers.