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Thailand Launch a War on Packaged Food Containing Salt

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More than 22 million Thais suffer from ailments due to high salt and sodium consumption and each year. While 20,000 of them die from one of four main related diseases.

More than 90 per cent of Thai families eat instant noodles, equivalent to eight million packs of instant noodles per day. Thai instant noodle have up to 2,000 milligrams of sodium per pack, while Korean imported ones have up to 7,000.

Excessive salt consumption kills an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization . The WHO recommends consumption of less than 5 grams of salt per day in order to improve population health.

Thais consume an average of 10.8 grams of salt per day (over 4,000 milligrams of sodium). This rate is more than double the recommended daily amount of salt. The main sources of salt derive from salt added during cooking, packaged food, and street food.

In line with global targets to reduce the prevalence of raised blood pressure by 25% by 2025, Thailand has set ambitious goals in order to achieve a 30% reduction in population intake of salt/sodium. The Ministry of Public Health has recently implemented the 2016-2025 Salt and Sodium Reduction Policy.

The action plan focuses on labelling, legislation, product reformulation, and research initiatives that encourage the production and consumption of foods with reduced sodium content. Furthermore there prioritizing consumer education to ensure effective implementation.

Tax on Salt for Flavor

Instant noodles, snacks and seasoning powder have been targeted for taxation on salty foods, with the Excise Department.

The tax rates must be high enough to prompt consumers to change consumption behaviour, said Nutthakorn Utensute, director of the Bureau of Tax Planning. The higher the sodium content, the higher the levy, Mr Nutthakorn said. It will be a progressive tax rate based on sodium content, he said.

Manufacturers are expected to get a reprieve of 1-2 years to give them time to adjust.

Some 60% of instant noodles, snacks and seasoning power available on the market contain more sodium than is recommended per meal, Mr Nutthakorn said.

Although Thailand’s sodium intake standard has been set at 2,400-3,000mg a day, the Excise Department wants to apply the WHO’s guidance level in setting tax rates to reduce salt consumption.

Sodium added as a flavour enhancer would be taxed, but sodium added as a preservative will be tax-exempt.

Seasoning sauces such as fish sauce and soy sauce will not be taxed, Mr Nutthakorn told the Bangkok Post.

Whether frozen foods will be subject to the tax is being debated by the Excise Department and the Public Health Ministry, he said.

The department wants to avoid taxing frozen foods to comply with the tax fairness principle. Meaning that if the same fresh foods are exempt, frozen foods should also be. In contrast the ministry prefers frozen foods to be taxed because most of them have a high sodium content.

Heart Disease and Kidney Failure

Mr Nutthakorn referred to a WHO report noting that when sodium consumption is cut by 20-30%, non-communicable diseases such as kidney failure and high blood pressure will be reduced by 30-40%.

The levy on salty foods should be high enough to make the manufacturing sector change its products. Similar to the tax on sugary drinks, he said.

Thailand enacted the excise tax on sugary drinks on Sept 16, 2017, with the goal of lowering sugar consumption.

Click here for WHO fact sheet on Salt