Study: Australia slow to cut salt levels in bread

by Eric Schroeder
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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Less than half of the bread products in Australian supermarket shelves meet the sodium target established by the government’s Food and Health Dialogue, according to a new report prepared by researchers at The George Institute for Global Health.

The report, “Sodium content of Australian bread products 2007-2010,” examined changes in the sodium levels in Australian bread products using four years of data from a branded food composition database established and updated by the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH). Mean sodium levels in bread products were compared over time and between major manufacturers.

In addition to finding less than half of the bread products have acceptable salt levels, the report noted overall average sodium levels in Australian bread products barely have changed between 2007 (434 mg/100 g) and 2010 (436 mg/100 g). Additionally, some manufacturers, including George Weston Foods and Woolworths, are making significant improvements, but others, such as Goodman Fielder and Bakers Delight, are not, the researchers noted.

In the case of George Weston Foods, the proportion of bread meeting the 400 mg/100 g target was 96% in 2010, up sharply from 19% in 2007. Meanwhile, the proportion of bread meeting the target fell to 21% in 2010 for Goodman Fielder, down from 44% in 2007.

“These data provide no evidence of a coordinated effort to reduce salt levels across the bread manufacturing industry,” the researchers said. “The efforts of one company are being offset by the inaction of another. These findings do not inspire confidence in the current approach to salt reduction in bread, which relies upon voluntary action by industry. It is particularly concerning that despite the Food and Health Dialogue making salt reduction a priority and bread a first target, there appears to be little progress. If the voluntary approach advocated by industry and supported by government cannot deliver salt reduction, than regulation will be required.”

The Food and Health Dialogue was established in 2009 so that the Australian government, industry and public health groups could work collaboratively to address poor dietary habits and promote healthier food choices for all Australians. Salt reduction — specifically in bread and breakfast cereals — was identified as an initial target of the Food and Health Dialogue.

Bruce Neal, senior director of The George Institute for Global Health, said the report’s findings are particularly disconcerting considering the progress being made to reduce salt intake in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada over the past five years.

“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,” Mr. Neal said. “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 the 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.”

For the full report, visit www.georgeinstitute.org.au.

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