Consumer group calls on Dutch parliament for tougher salt measures

By Louis Gore-Langton

- Last updated on GMT

Dutch supermarkets could be forced to reduce salt content in their private label products at triple the rate currently set © iStock
Dutch supermarkets could be forced to reduce salt content in their private label products at triple the rate currently set © iStock
A study by the Dutch Consumentebond has found exceedingly higher levels of salt in private label supermarket foods than their name brand counterparts and are calling on the government to enforce tougher measures.

The investigation measured sodium levels from a range of food products through lab tests, revealing up to 89% more salt in some items.

The consumer group has written to Dutch parliament to pass a motion enforcing tougher measures, saying the current restrictions and monitoring processes are insufficient.

Findings

The study looked at processed ingredients, ready meals and meat products from major supermarket chains Albert Heijn, Aldi, Jumbo and Lidl.

Products such as Aldi ready-made pizza, Lidl sausages and Albert Heijn Caesar salad contained an average of almost 40% additional salt than other options.

The consumer group say that if supermarkets would cut salt in all their private labels to the lowest current available standard, a 20% salt decrease would result.

Sodium levels were tested in a lab as labelling is often inaccurate, said Henry Uitslag, a spokesperson for the consumer group.

Often there was actually less salt than marked on the label, he said, but levels were still too high.

Conflict of interest

In early 2014 an agreement was formed between the Dutch government and food industry operators which included the formation of an independent Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).

The SAC scrutinise different sectors of the food and drink industry for salt, sugar and saturated fat reduction; before this the industry had complete freedom over its product ingredients.

However, the SAC’s rulings over the food industry are non-binding. Different food and drink sectors are responsible for deciding their own improvement targets, on which the SAC issues opinions. 

Once the advisory committee has scrutinised and passed judgement on what has and should be done in a given area, a ‘steering committee’ makes a final call on future action.

The steering committee can overrule advice given by the SAC; the steering committee is comprised of representatives from within the industry, for example the Food and Drink Federation of the Netherlands (FNLI).

The consumer group says this is a clear conflict of interest, however under the current agreement the food industry maintains the power to circumvent any directives put to them, and they do - since the formation of the 2014 agreement, the steering committee has overruled all advice given by the SAC.

A motion will be proposed to Parliament by the Dutch Christian Union party, which calls for the directives of the advisory committee to become binding. If enforced, supermarkets may be compelled to reduce salt content at triple the rate they have proposed themselves. 

"Instead of 10% by 2019, we think 10% immediately and then every year until 2019 would be more reasonable"​ said Uitslag.

He added that "The supermarkets claim consumers will not accept such a rapid change in flavour, but the SAC sees this argument and maintains its advice".

The FNLI hit back at the criticism however, saying that forcing a breach of the existing agreement could compel the industry to pull out of its existing targets and that a prolonged dispute might hinder the progress already being made. 

Suzanne Rotteveel, communication manager for the FNLI told FoodNavigator: "If this is taken into action, it would be breaching an existing confidence. There is a risk people will walk out. The SAC was installed by the ministry of health, so our view is that there is enough independent control over the industry. We think the current organisation works." 

The FNLI have no current plans to take further action on the parliamentary motion, Rotteveel said. 

Salt reduction

The WHO recommends no more than 2 g of sodium per day, equalling 5 g of salt. According to Consumentebond, however, consumers still have 9 g per day on average.

The EU’s salt reduction framework also cites studies showing some countries such as Slovenia, consuming an average of almost triple the recommended rate at 14.3 g. 

Measures against over consumption of salt have increased throughout Europe in recent years following rising evidence of salt’s relation to non-communicable diseases such as obesity.

A 2015 CASH study found an increase in just 1 gram of salt per day was associated with a 26% increase in the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese; the number rose to 28% for children.

Last year a team of Australian researchers also found that increase in salty food was directly linked to passive consumption of fatty foods. Participants were given varying levels of salt and then told to eat until comfortably full, those having consumed levels of salt went on to eat 11% more food and energy, regardless of fat levels.

High sodium intake increases blood pressure which can lead to cardiovascular and renal disease. According to the EU, 36% of Europeans receiving long term medical treatment do so for hypertension.

Related topics: Health, Ingredients

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