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Coming soon: tougher salt reduction targets

By Rick Pendrous , 04-Dec-2012

Manufacturers will be expected to meet tougher salt reduction targets, according to the co-chair of the Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) Food Network. This is despite health campaigners' fears that the government was going cold on setting lower targets beyond those set for 2012.

In a question and answer session following her 2012 Institute of Food Science & Technology lecture in London last month, Dr Susan Jebb, head of diet and population health at the Medical Research Council, told Food Manufacture that although sectors of the food industry had struggled to reach the 2012 salt reduction targets, further progress would be expected.

Jebb would not be drawn on numbers, since the consultation with stakeholders was still underway, but when asked whether tougher targets would be set, she said: "There will be new targets, for sure." And when pressed on whether they would be tougher, she replied: "Well, they won't be easier."

'Reformulation works'

She remarked: "We are in the process of looking at where we are. What has been most interesting to me is looking at the range of salt content, even in relatively similar foods. Without doubt some businesses have done a fantastic job; some have not. And there remains a real range of salt content on the market. So what that tells me is that reformulation works and there is scope to do more about it."

In Jebb's lecture: 'Food for a fitter future consumer choice or industry responsibility', she spoke of the problems of diet-related ill health facing us and the rising cost to the nation if it is not addressed.

She described the PHRD as a success, with more than 400 organisations signed up to it and "growing month by month". However, she recognised that what influences consumer consumption behaviours was complex, given our predisposition to eat, and requires co-ordinated action to address. "Social marketing is not sufficient to change behaviours," she said.

"Making healthy choices the easier choices"

This is why the government had adopted what is known as the "nudge" approach to improving dietary intake and "making healthy choices the easier choices", she added. However, this required changes to our food environment and this is where manufacturers, retailers and foodservice firms came in, with pledges on calorie, saturated fat and salt reduction.

"Government can seek to influence the way the food system is shaped in more subtle ways than the mandatory approach," she said. "Reformulation has been central to salt intake reductions."