Draft salt targets welcomed for food manufacturers

Draft salt targets for food manufacturers are welcome but regular monitoring is key to success, the Heart Foundation, VicHealth and The George Institute for Global Health said today.

The call came with the release of a recent consumer survey by VicHealth, which found that more than 70 per cent of people want home brand products to contain less salt, and 60 per cent would pick a low-salt product off the supermarket shelf over a salty version.

At a parliamentary breakfast in Canberra this morning, the coalition of organisations representing the Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership supported the Federal Government’s current consultation on draft salt targets for a range of processed and packaged foods including ready meals, pizza, processed meats and baked goods. The consultation is part of the Healthy Food Partnership, under which the Government, the public health sector and the food industry work together to encourage healthy eating.

The coalition encouraged the Federal Government to:

  1. Set and monitor targets to reduce salt in identified food categories
  2. Measure and monitor changes in population salt intake, and
  3. Highlight the importance of reducing salt as part of a national healthy eating campaign

Heart Foundation CEO Victoria Kellie-Ann Jolly welcomed the Federal Government’s public consultation on draft targets.

“We have long advocated for food reformulation and are pleased to see the Government taking steps to address this issue. We know adopting targets to reduce hidden salt in processed and packaged foods is an effective way to reduce Australia’s average salt intake at a population level,” Ms Jolly said.

“Seventy-five per cent of the salt in our diets is hidden in processed and packaged foods. Excess salt can increase your blood pressure, which is a major risk for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

“Through our Unpack the Salt campaign, we’ve seen how benchmarking products like pasta sauces opens up a dialogue with manufacturers and is key for encouraging them to consider reducing salt in their processed and packaged foods. If salt levels are adjusted incrementally over time, consumers’ taste expectations adjust accordingly.”

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said community attitudes towards salt are changing. “Consumers are becoming more health conscious which in turn, drives demand for healthier, packaged and processed foods, putting pressure on food manufacturers to reformulate their products,” Ms Rechter said.

“With the majority of consumers calling for healthier, reduced salt products on our supermarket shelves, it’s time that industry and the Government meets this demand.

“We also know that not everyone understands the impact of too much salt on their health. A national healthy eating campaign is needed to ensure people can make an informed decision about the food they eat.”

The George Institute for Global Health’s Dr Jacqui Webster warned Australia seriously lags in its efforts to address salt intake at a population level.

“The United Kingdom has one of the lowest salt intakes of any developed country. They achieved a 15 per cent reduction through strong government leadership that set salt targets for the food industry and actively monitored their progress,” Dr Webster said.

“If Australia is to meet its commitment to the World Health Organization target of a 30 per cent reduction in salt by 2025, then we need more urgent action. That’s why we welcome the Federal Government’s commitment through the Healthy Food Partnership to drive change through targets for sodium levels in foods.

“To ensure the success of these targets, we need the Federal Government to commit to funding implementation and monitoring as well as delivering a national healthy eating campaign, with a focus on the importance of reducing salt.

“Eating too much salt increases blood pressure which is one of the biggest contributors to premature death and disability in Australia. Reducing Australian salt consumption would save thousands of lives each year as well as millions in healthcare costs.”