As a 2020 resolution banning high-sodium foods takes effect in Colombia, some residents are experiencing a crisis as common food staples and condiments, like mustard and soy sauce, are banned from stores, leading consumers to look for alternative avenues to acquire them.
The strict Resolution 2013 law set a maximum amount of sodium allowed for processed food in an effort to improve the health of citizens in the country and specified 59 foods and condiments that will be regulated, giving companies a 24-month period to adjust their products accordingly.
Dijon mustard has become contraband in Colombia because it exceeds the limit on sodium per 100 grams. (Credit: Loren Moss)
The ban broadly affects manufacturers, processors, distributors, marketers, and importers, and even requires products imported from abroad to comply with the new rules.
The stringent new rules have turned products like Dijon mustard — which can have up to 1,200 mg of sodium per 100 grams, well above the new limit of 600 mg per 100 grams of product — into highly coveted contraband. Supermarkets have stopped stocking the product and many restaurants, food purveyors, and home chefs are having a hard time acquiring it.
The believed reasoning behind the shortage is due to the fact that many of the companies who export products like Dijon mustard to the country are refusing change their recipe to comply with the sodium laws.
The shortage has created a surge in prices and even claims of profiteering from some local businesses. Flambée Bistro, a French restaurant in Bogotá, briefly sold homemade Dijon mustard for twice its previous retail price, while 7.5 ounce jars from mustard brand Maille, which can be purchased for under $4 USD in the United States, have been listed for more than $17 USD at the online store Mercado Libre.
Many have questioned the new law’s validity in the current climate. Henrique Gómez, president of the Colombian Association of the Gastronomic Industry (Acodres), called it “a prohibition that we consider goes above various norms, including constitutional ones.” In an article from Valora Analitik, María Claudia Lacouture, president of the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce, questioned the validity of banning a product that can be made from home: “Are we going down a path where the state tells us what to eat and what not to eat?”
Thierry Ways, a delicatessen owner, was quoted as asking, “what’s the point of banning mustard simply because it has too much salt per 100 grams? You don’t eat 100 grams of mustard in one sitting.”
The new ban on high-sodium products also affects many Asian restaurants and food sellers because the ban also affects soy sauce and teriyaki sauce, which can both have a sodium count above the limit. “Very soon, in a supermarket it will be possible to buy cigarettes, but not soy sauce, and take a liter of bad liquor, but not a bottle of Dijon mustard,” wrote Manuel Moreno Slagter, a columnist for El Heraldo.
The prohibition has also prompted officials, such as former health ministry official Elisa Cadena, to question the current rollout of the law. Cadena said that the government “should review the norm and see if it can make any changes due to its gastronomic use.”
The government has not responded to the increasing clamor against the high-sodium limits, though Leendert Nederveen from the Pan American Health Organization has defended the sodium limits as standard in over 65 countries.
“The government’s role is to protect the consumer,” he said.