THE Department of Health has softened its targets for sodium in processed food and given industry an extra year to comply with its new regulations‚ signed into law by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi this week.
The changes are a result of industry lobbying following the publication last July of draft regulations to the Foodstuffs‚ Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act‚ which set maximum thresholds for the amount of sodium in a wide range of foodstuffs‚ from bread and butter to soup and crisps.
Like many other governments around the world‚ the South African government hopes that regulating the sodium content of processed food will translate into better health for the nation. Sodium is found in salt and some flavour enhancers and preservatives‚ and raises the risk of hypertension‚ which in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Too much salt is also bad for the kidneys and increases the risk of stomach cancer.
South Africans are estimated to get about 60% of their daily sodium intake from food they buy‚ with the rest coming from the salt they add during cooking or at the table. The government would ideally like South Africans to halve their average daily salt intake‚ to meet the World Health Organisation target of 5g a day.
Prof Melvyn Freeman‚ head of noncommunicable diseases in the Department of Health‚ said 35 submissions had been received in response to the draft regulations. The department’s main concessions had been to raise the maximum permitted sodium content of some products‚ and to extend the final deadline for compliance from 2018 to 2019. The reduction in sodium is to be phased in‚ with the first set of targets due to be met by June 2016.
"We took the comments very seriously‚ looked at other countries‚ and set our targets accordingly‚” Prof Freeman said.
"One other big change is that we left out the labelling (provisions) as industry thought this would be particularly onerous and would duplicate other regulations. So sodium will be included in the food labelling regulations which are currently under review rather than here‚” he said.
"Other changes are not regulating breads that have salty additions like olives or sun-dried tomatoes‚ we have added different targets for salt-and-vinegar chips and we have separated out soups‚ gravies and stocks‚ which now have different levels‚” he said.
The department was planning a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of eating too much salt‚ and large food manufacturers had offered to assist smaller companies in getting to grips with the technical changes needed to comply with the new regulations‚ Prof Freeman said.
Salt not only affects the taste of food‚ but is integral to some food processes and the quality of the product. Last year‚ bread producers said dropping the salt content of their dough too low would compel them to find new ingredients to retain the texture and shelf-life of products and force them to make changes to their production process. This could push up the price of bread‚ they warned.
The government‚ however‚ believes higher food costs would be more than offset by the savings to the health system. Prof Freeman said about R300m a year could be saved‚ citing a study by Wits researcher Karen Hofman. In a paper published in the South African Medical Journal‚ she estimated that cutting daily sodium consumption by 0.85g would prevent 7‚400 deaths a year from strokes and heart disease.
The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa said it was disappointed with the regulations‚ which it believed would push up costs. The deadlines were unrealistic‚ it said on its website.
© BDlive 2013