Leading Canadian health organizations joined forces to set up the group in 2007 as a first step toward the development of a long-term national strategy to reduce dietary sodium levels.
As part of its effort to achieve this goal, the Sodium Working Group issued a sodium reduction strategy in July, nearly three years in the making, which looked to industry to meet voluntary reduction targets with defined timelines, set according to food categories. The targets were intended to bring the average Canadian’s daily sodium intake down to 2,300mg by 2016, based on a five percent reduction per year.
The strategy also included a mechanism for public commitment by industry to the targets, a plan for monitoring progress by an independent body, and a plan for independent evaluation of the program with an option to take stronger measures if necessary.
According to a report in the Globe and Mail, the government has now handed the group’s responsibilities over to the Food Regulatory Advisory Committee, which has a much wider remit and includes some members with ties to the food industry, including chair Paul Paquin, a professor at Laval University, who is also vice president of the Canadian division of the International Dairy Federation.
Commenting on the disbanding of the Working Group, former group member and director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network, Kevin Willis, was quoted by the Globe and Mail as saying: “It’s certainly a cause for concern because there’s lots of work still to be done. My major overall fear is that we will make slow progress on reducing the sodium in the food supply.”
The 25-member Working Group was led by Health Canada, but also included health researchers, non-government organizations, and food manufacturing trade bodies.
According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the average Canadian consumes 3,092mg of sodium each day, although the government’s recommended intake is 1,500mg, and no more than 2,300mg a day. It is estimated that Canadians get 70 to 80 percent of their sodium from processed foods.
No one from Health Canada, the Canadian Stroke Network or Blood Pressure Canada responded to calls for comment prior to publication.