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'Invisible' sodium think tank under fire Add to ...

Canada's sodium-reduction task force has failed to fulfill its mandate on an urgent public-health issue and has such a low profile it's "invisible" to the public and policy-makers, members of the House of Commons health committee said yesterday."This is an urgent issue and what is taking so long?" asked NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

The MPs join a growing chorus of medical experts and health advocates who have been demanding immediate action from the government and industry to lower the levels of sodium throughout Canada's food supply.

The federal government appointed the task force in 2007 to develop a strategy to lower the population's salt intake. The sodium working group consists of medical professionals, policy-makers, food-industry representatives and consumer advocates.

The problem is that many food makers add so much sodium to their products that, on average, Canadians consume about 3,100 milligrams of sodium daily - double the recommended level for adults.

Medical experts say a national sodium-reduction strategy is needed because a majority of the salt we eat - about 80 per cent - is added to packaged or processed foods such as bread, sauces and soups.

The committee briefly diverted its attention from the discussion of an H1N1 flu strategy to discuss sodium yesterday. It was the first time the parliamentary committee dedicated a meeting to the discussion of Canada's excessive sodium consumption, and many MPs expressed frustration and disappointment that the national working group hasn't produced any tangible results more than two years after its formation.

"I have some concerns," said Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett. "I want to know what's been happening over the last 2½ years and how do we get going?"

Members of the task force said they're doing their best, but that without a significant investment from the federal government, their efforts will never be successful.

A massive sodium-reduction campaign rolled out several years ago in Britain cost the government more than $30-million, said Mary L'Abbé, vice-chair of the sodium working group.

The sodium working group met last week for the first time in several months and outlined its recent progress. Dr. L'Abbé said it is working with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop a plan for future research on sodium. While MPs were critical of the task force's progress, their involvement is crucial to the future of the cause because they can help push the federal government to invest in sodium reduction, said Norm Campbell, Canadian chair in hypertension prevention and control and a member of the sodium task force.

"I think the politicians should hold our committee to task," Dr. Campbell said.

"Perhaps this should have been on their agenda many years ago."

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