UK manufacturers helping to drive salt intake down

Posted by Isobel Drake on 23rd July 2008

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has established that there is a continued downward trend in the amount of salt consumed by people in the UK. The Agency has been pushing the decreased salt message for a number of years and an encouraging decline in recent years reflects the positive progress made by the food industry in reformulating products, as well as the behaviour changes of consumers, who are checking labels and adding less salt to their food.

The new evidence estimates that the UK’s average daily salt consumption has fallen from 9.5g to 8.6g, and reflects an overall drop of 0.9g since the National Nutrition and Diet Survey (NDNS) in 2000/01.

Despite this positive indication, the finding highlights that more work needs to be done to meet the Government’s UK average population target of 6g a day. The Agency is now launching a public consultation on proposals that will make its voluntary salt reduction targets for 2010 stricter, and set more challenging targets for 2012.

The focus on salt is due to the fact that high consumption is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, which can triple the risk of heart disease and stroke.

It is estimated that 75 per cent of the salt consumed is already in every day food, which is why the Agency launched voluntary salt reduction targets in 2006 to reduce salt levels in the 85 categories of food. These include everyday foods such as bread, meat products and cereals, and convenience foods like pizza, ready meals, savoury snacks and cakes and pastries. Although the targets were set to be achieved by 2010, the Agency committed to reviewing these targets in 2008 to assess progress and explore whether further reductions were needed.

The Agency’s review of industry progress in salt reduction has found that although substantial advances have been made by some manufacturers and retailers to meet the 2010 targets, there is still scope for some sectors of industry to do more. “The Food Standards Agency is encouraged that action to reduce the average amount of salt we are eating on a daily basis is clearly having a positive impact. We recognise that the great steps taken by many manufacturers and retailers have contributed to this success,” Food Standards Agency Chief Executive, Tim Smith, said. “But while the results of the urinary analysis are positive, we are aware there is still plenty to do.”

The FSA are working with industry to address the issue and suggest that a number of hurdles need to be overcome. “We have listened to the experience of industry and are aware of the food safety, consumer acceptance and technical difficulties involved in taking salt out of food,” Mr Smith added. “We have set targets that are challenging, long term and have been set to drive continued progress. We look forward to continuing to work constructively with industry to achieve this goal.”

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the food and beverage manufacturing sector, suggested they would be keen to improve on the work already done on the issue. “We are encouraged that FSA has recognised the work of the food manufacturing industry. We look forward to continuing to work with the Agency on further salt reductions in packaged foods, and will consult our members to see if the new targets are achievable. However, we do think FSA is right is to take a more holistic approach that focuses on all sources of salt in the diet,” Julian Hunt, FDF Director of Communications, said. “Industry’s salt reduction efforts are underpinned by the widespread use of front-of-pack nutrition labels using Guideline Daily Amount information to educate consumers that they should aim to consume no more than 6g of salt a day.”

The FSA has also begun work with the large and diverse catering sector, to improve the nutritional content of food eaten out of the home. So far, the Agency has secured commitments from the UK’s biggest contract caterers and suppliers and is currently extending this early positive work to major high street chains.

With the average person eating one in every six meals out of the home each week, it is likely that the catering sector will have an impact on daily salt intakes by reducing the amount of salt in the food it provides.