Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Some of the country's most prominent health organizations have banded together to demand action from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a national plan to reduce excessive sodium consumption in Canada.

The groups, which include the Canadian Medical Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Hypertension Canada and the Canadian Stroke Network, say failure to take action on this urgent issue sends the message that the interests of the food industry are more important than the health of Canadians.

"This, to me, is very, very troubling," said Norm Campbell, Canadian Institutes of Health Research chair in hypertension prevention and control, and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary.

Story continues below advertisement

The concerns are outlined in a letter signed by nearly two dozen health groups that was sent to the Prime Minister's Office last week, as well as to provincial and territorial premiers. A copy of the letter was provided to The Globe and Mail.

The average Canadian consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, more than double the recommended amount of 1,500 milligrams, which puts tens of thousands at risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and a host of other health problems. About 80 per cent of the sodium Canadians consume is added to products by manufacturers.

The federal government created a task force that issued a comprehensive report in 2010 detailing possible solutions to the problem, most notably the establishment of maximum allowable targets for sodium in food products sold in Canada.

But the task force was disbanded without warning last year and many of the group's recommendations seem to have been abandoned in the process.

For instance, while the federal government says it supports the broad goal of reducing the average daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams by 2016, it backed away from a plan to create reduction targets that would have required companies to lower the amount of sodium in their products.

An official from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq's office has said the approach of adopting reduction targets is too heavy-handed and there are other ways to accomplish the goals.

But experts say that the government seems to have cowed to the interests of food companies and that without the key reduction initiative, there is no way average sodium intake in Canada will decline substantially.

Story continues below advertisement

"For this approach to be successful, we need to have targets, firm targets established for different categories of food," said Kevin Willis, director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network. "It certainly gives the impression the federal government is perhaps putting interests of the food industry before the health of the population."

The federal government also failed to endorse a joint sodium reduction report presented at a meeting of provincial, territorial and federal health ministers this past November. The provinces have expressed keen interest in the area of sodium and have been working to establish a reduction plan.

The decision by the federal government not to endorse the report "will be seen as a signal to the food processing industry and food service establishments that our national government is not serious about the need to commit …" to sodium reduction goals, the health groups' letter says.

The argument sodium reduction targets are too onerous and won't receive industry buy-in "sends the clear message to Canadians that private interest takes precedence over food safety and their health and wellness," the letter continues.

Derek Nighbor, senior vice-president of public and regulatory affairs at Food and Consumer Products of Canada, an industry group, said that's simply not true. The food industry is committed to reducing salt, as seen in many lower-sodium offerings in grocery stores, and is continuously working to achieve goals, Mr. Nighbor said. But it's a complex, scientific process that will take time.

"Sodium reduction is the right thing to do," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to a request for comment. Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Ms. Aglukkaq, said creating and policing reduction targets for every food category would be a "bureaucratic nightmare," but the government is committed to working with industry to deliver low-sodium options to the public.

There has been some controversy recently about the need to cut back on salt following publication of studies that suggested lower sodium was linked to health problems, while higher amounts offered a protective benefit. But experts say those studies had serious flaws, such as only following participants for short periods, making it impossible to draw conclusions about the long-term effects of a high-sodium diet.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations have declared sodium reduction to be a major public health priority necessary to prevent chronic disease.

An estimated 7.5 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, a condition that causes half of all cases of cardiovascular disease and more than six in 10 strokes. High salt intake is also linked to kidney problems, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and other serious issues.

"These are really massive numbers," Dr. Campbell said. "These are our friends, our relatives, our family and maybe us."

Read the Globe's award-winning special report Salt: Hard to Shake

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies