Business Day

Cutting salt content of bread will raise price, bakers say

- TAMAR KAHN Science and Health Editor kahnt@bdfm.co.za

CAPE TOWN — The South African Chamber of Baking said yesterday that it agreed with Pioneer Foods that the government’s proposals for cutting the salt content of processed food, if accepted in their current form, would force them to make production changes that would make bread more expensive.

The Department of Health is targeting sodium, contained in salt, as it was believed to increase blood pressure, in turn raising the risk of illness such as heart attacks and stroke.

It published draft regulation­s to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfecta­nts Act on July 11 that propose a gradual reduction in the salt content of a range of processed food with maximum levels set for 2016 and 2018, as it tries to get South Africans to halve their daily salt intake to just 5g, or a teaspoonfu­l.

Bread is among the targeted food groups as it is a staple for many South Africans.

Pioneer Foods and the Chamber of Baking said that while they supported the spirit of the law, the proposals for 2018 would require changes to processes and ingredient­s that would force them to increase their bread prices.

“Let’s not beat about the bush … it’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” said Vasu Moodley, president of the Chamber of Baking, which counts Tiger Brands and Food Corp among its members.

He said the 2016 thresholds of 400mg of sodium per 100g (about two slices) of bread were feasible, but the 2018 threshold of 370mg sodium per 100g would change the taste, texture and bread-making process to such an extent that new ingredient­s and machinery would be needed.

“The fact is when you have to make those changes, it does have an impact on the price that the consumer is going to pay,” he said. The Chamber of Baking was evaluating the financial implicatio­ns of the proposed regulation­s, he said.

Salt also helped preserve bread, so if there was less of it, loaves would go stale quicker, he said.

“Ultimately the industry needs to work with the government to find an amicable solution that meets our requiremen­ts and ensures the health of our nation,” said Mr Moodley.

The Department of Health’s head of non-communicab­le diseases, Melvyn Freeman, said the government­s’ proposals were entirely feasible: “From what we hear from elsewhere in the world, they are reachable targets,” he said.

“They (bread makers) say to us that their particular grain is different from that in the UK, and therefore the processes are slightly different … but when (University of Cape Town researcher­s) did a trial in the Western Cape they seemed to manage to bake the breads to our required standard without it having much of a taste or production implicatio­n.”

“We are not convinced it can’t be done,” he said.

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