Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food discusses measures to reduce salt and sugar

The following is issued on behalf of the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food:

     The Chairperson of the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, Mr Bernard Chan, today (January 8) said the Committee considered that measures to reduce salt and sugar in food should be implemented in a progressive manner. To achieve the goal, sustained efforts in enhancing education and providing incentives are necessary for the food industry and the public to gradually adapt to the changes.

     At today's meeting, the Committee was briefed on the work progress of its three working groups. Members also discussed the way forward to encourage the public to reduce dietary intake of salt and sugar as well as the reduction of salt and sugar in food.

     The three working groups are responsible for gauging the views of relevant stakeholders, including food manufacturers and the catering industry, and conducting focused discussions and proposing measures for salt and sugar reduction suitable for Hong Kong in three aspects, namely lowering the content of salt and sugar in food, reducing dietary intake of salt and sugar, and publicity and education.

     Mr Chan said, "International experience reveals that reduction of salt and sugar is a long-term and continuous process, which cannot be achieved in one go. It should be noted that the global target set by the World Health Organization is to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in the intake of salt in 10 years (i.e. by 2025).

     "The Committee proposes that Hong Kong should adopt a step-by-step approach, starting from the easy issues before tackling the more difficult ones. With the industry taking the lead on a voluntary basis to progressively lower the content of salt and sugar in food, not only can the public gradually adapt to changes in flavour and adopt a relatively healthier diet, but also the relevant industry can have time to make adjustment accordingly and reduce the impacts of such measures on the actual operation.

     "We will prudently review the difficulties involved in implementing each and every measure on salt and sugar reduction, so as to formulate practical and feasible proposals suitable for Hong Kong."

     The Committee considers that Hong Kong should work along two directions, namely providing more information and choices. First, the public's awareness of salt and sugar content in food should be enhanced. They should have easy access to relevant information to assist them in making appropriate choices. Second, the catering industry and food manufacturers should be encouraged to provide healthier products with low salt and sugar content for the public to choose.

     The Committee noted that one of the working groups was concerned about consumers' keen demand for simple and accessible nutritional information. The working group has drawn reference from overseas nutrition labelling schemes, i.e. "traffic-light" labelling. Under such schemes, different nutrition levels of a specific food product are colour-coded at the front of the package so that consumers can see at a glance the levels of key nutrients of foods. Taking into account the industry's concerns that the scheme may create undesirable labelling effects, the working groups suggested that the industry provide simple and accessible salt and sugar information on pre-packaged food products, similar to those of the "traffic-light" labelling scheme, on a voluntary basis. The Committee tends to adopt a positive reinforcement approach in the promotion of choices and information of food with low salt and sugar. It is formulating more specific measures along this direction.

     Through education and publicity, the Committee will work with the Government to make the community aware of the benefits of low-salt-and-sugar diets, thereby gradually improving eating habits. In the long run, lowering the content of salt and sugar in food through reformulation is also an important key to the success of the overall strategy.

     Mr Chan said, "Lowering the content of salt and sugar in food inevitably involves reformulation. The Committee fully understands that reducing salt and sugar in food is no easy task. We will strengthen our communication with the industry and attach importance to their views.

     "We understand that, when it comes to implementation, complicated factors including food expiry dates, storage methods, use of other flavouring, application of traditional recipes and responses of consumers have to be considered. Other factors like food culture, business operation arrangements of different sectors and concrete proposals should also be considered."

     Although individual members of the trade have implemented measures to reduce salt and sugar in food in the past, the social environment and consumers' awareness of healthy eating did not catch up. With a lack of market demand and corresponding supporting measures, the sustainability of these sporadic measures was called into question and the impact has been confined to mostly non-mainstream food products targeting small groups of consumers or those who are on a healthy diet.

     The Committee opined that the trade should be encouraged to launch pilot schemes to gradually reduce salt and sugar in their products. These moves, in the face of the healthy eating trend and consumers' demand for healthy food products, will encourage positive interaction. Incentives should also be continuously provided to the trade for consolidating their efforts on reducing salt and sugar in food progressively.

     Mr Chan said, "The Committee will continue to draw on overseas experience, including engaging the International Advisory Panel on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food which comprises five public health experts from the Mainland and overseas. The situation of Hong Kong will also be given full and thorough consideration in order to explore and contextualise concrete measures suitable for Hong Kong. In addition, the three working groups under the Committee will continue to solicit views from the relevant trades and stakeholders on further recommendations.

     "We are aware that the promotion of less salt and sugar intake among the public is not easy. However, with the recognition and support of society and the relevant trades, the Committee believes a step forward in the promotion of public health can be achieved with the implementation of concrete, pragmatic and feasible measures under the framework of enhancing information transparency and choices through close collaboration with the trades."

Ends/Friday, January 8, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:51