Pointing to the health risks associated with a high-salt diet, the federal New Democrats are resurrecting calls for a national sodium strategy in Canada.

NDP health critic Libby Davies tabled a bill Monday encouraging Ottawa to enact a strategy requiring food manufacturers to lower sodium levels, among other tough-on-salt measures.

The bill, formally named An Act Respecting the Implementation of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada, will take its cues from a list of recommendations that were published by Health Canada in July 2010.

Among the suggestions in Davies’ proposed sodium strategy:

  • Tweak consumer information about sodium on food labels, in Canada’s Food Guide, and in other government publications.
  • Ensure sodium levels in prepackaged foods do not exceed certain benchmarks.
  • Ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t spent on high-sodium foods.
  • Create a “Sodium Reduction Advisory Committee,” which will report to the federal health minister.

Other ideas include amending Canada's Food and Drugs Act to require all nutrition fact tables on prepackaged food to include sodium levels in milligrams, and as a percentage of 1,500 mg.

Public health officials say the average adult should aim for 1,500 mg of sodium per day. For children between four and eight years old that amount is 1,200 mg.

But, according to Statistics Canada, Canadians are eating more than double their recommended sodium intake. Much of that sodium is said to come from processedfoods,including restaurant fare, bread, prepared meats and cheese.

“This issue is now so critical and the level of sodium in some packaged foods and processed foods is so high that it is very unhealthy, that I believe it is imperative that the government of Canada take clear, defensible decisions and actions based on scientific evidence, and that is what the bill is about,” Davies told CTV News.

Health officials have long warned that many ailments -- high blood pressure, heart disease and more -- can accompany a high-salt diet.

What’s more, Canadian researchers have estimated that up to 23,500 cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if sodium consumption is cut in half.

“The level of sodium that Canadians are taking up is huge and the health impacts of that are really quite dramatic, including 10,000 to 16,000 deaths a year,” Davies said.

The bill also calls for “significant labelling” on products that exceed specific sodium levels so consumers “know what they are buying,” Davies said.

The bill also calls for strict guidelines on advertising certain products to children.

The Food and Consumer Products of Canada said Monday in response to Davies’ measure that the country’s food and beverage industry is “committed to doing our part” to help Canadians lower their consumption of sodium.

“For years, industry has been steadily and voluntarily reducing the amount of sodium in the food we all consume, while still making the desirable products we all rely on and trust,” the FCPC said in a statement to CTV News. “We are committed to continuing this trend responsibly and safely.”

In its own statement, the NDP accused the federal government of ignoring pleas from health advocacy groups to regulate sodium in food. The party also decried a decision in 2011 to disband a Sodium Working Group that had been established by the health minister four years earlier.

Bill Jeffery, of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and a former member of the working group, said Monday that the bill “is a good step,” and draws on some of the working group’s recommendations.

“It’s not simply asking them and hopefully they (make changes) in a couple of years,” Jeffery told CTV. “It’s stipulating that they must do it. They do it, or disclose they are not doing it.”

With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip