Bakers Journal

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The sodium trials


March 4, 2011
By Laura Aiken

A special e-bulletin from the Baking Association of Canada (BAC) sure got my attention Jan. 11. Health Canada has revisited, revised and reduced the proposed sodium targets for baked goods.

A special e-bulletin from the Baking Association of Canada (BAC) sure got my attention Jan. 11. Health Canada has revisited, revised and reduced the proposed sodium targets for baked goods.

The new sodium targets Health Canada proposes are lower than those any other country has achieved on a nationwide level, I read.

“In the UK as an example (which the Canadian program has been modelled after) the sodium target for breads is 400mg/100g or almost 20 per cent higher than what Health Canada is proposing and the industry is currently struggling with reductions beyond 410-430mg/100g,” reported the Jan. 11 e-mail.  

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I asked Paul Hetherington, president of the BAC, what these yet to be finalized voluntary targets would mean for food companies, both big and small. Some of the considerations for voluntary compliance Hetherington noted included the possibility of a “name and shame” program that would see the government or health/consumer groups do individual product testing and publish the results to put pressure on compliance. Plus, there is the consideration that the government controls some bulk purchasing, such as for hospitals. He noted that there is, of course, the threat of regulation if industry doesn’t co-operate, as happened in British Columbia with trans fats.

The new targets were proposed, not finalized, and the BAC and other industry stakeholders were asked to respond in January, as Health Canada wants to finalize the targets for the end of March. See www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/consult/2011-sodium/consultation-eng.php for more information from Health Canada.

Health Canada’s position is that a more acceptable sodium intake as a country will not come from people changing their eating habits but from the food supply. There are so many complex layers to the diet question that Health Canada is likely right to seek more success in modifying the food chain than in changing the behaviour of the eaters, although this approach absolves consumers from individual responsibility. I have to wonder if this is an attitude we want to foster. People’s health will only win with a better understanding of how foods work together and where nutrition comes from, but the task of education can be overwhelming for this busy world.

So, bakers are faced with the task of improving the health of the nation, and that won’t be achieved without financial and mental stress. Every reformulation will demand new labels, time, energy, etc. It’s a monumental task the industry faces. I can only hope that what is finalized is also what is realistic.

Sodium targets are coming for restaurants and cafés as well. The issue that may arise down the road is the question of how accurate the results of this mission are, because self-reporting is riddled with issues when it comes to people’s health and diet. A recent StatsCan survey had 52 per cent of participants citing their activity levels as moderate when only 15 per cent in actuality were. It’s only human to under- or overestimate what we do or do not consume. I believe a truly healthier lower sodium diet will only be achieved when people get better at estimating and develop a natural taste for less salty food. Healthy or not, we all know people don’t buy food that doesn’t taste good, and that’s what really makes the bottom line.