Salt campaign adds to pressure for cuts

By Susan Birks

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Salt Food standards agency European union

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is to start a high profile awareness campaign on salt this month, running until November. It aims to communicate to...

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is to start a high profile awareness campaign on salt this month, running until November. It aims to communicate to consumers through television, press and poster advertising that too much salt is bad for the heart and that the recommended intake is no more than 6g/day.

This month is also the deadline given by minister for health, Melanie Johnson, for industry to submit revised salt reduction plans. Johnson said industry's first submissions would have failed to meet the FSA's target of reducing average intake to 6g by 2010.

The FSA said it has had further commitments from both Marks & Spencer and the Dairy Industry Association, while Kraft has promised a further 10% reduction in its DairyLea Lunchables. In addition Tesco, Morrison, Whitbread, Premier Foods and Harvester have now agreed to provide detailed commitments on salt reductions.

The pressure being brought to bear by the FSA is starting to show. Nigel Murray, sales and marketing director of LoSalt, a reduced sodium ingredient produced by Klinge Foods, says manufacturers have finally started to move on salt reduction: "Instead of comments like 'give me a few short notes of why should we do something about salt,' we are now getting 'look, I don't care how hard it is, we have to do something'."

The FSA intends to keep up the pressure and is commissioning research in to consumer reaction to the use of traffic light-style labelling on products.

Current European Union (EU) regulations require sodium levels to be listed on nutrition labelling but not salt. There is widespread belief that this does not help consumers.

"The sodium/salt labelling issue is silly," says Murray. "Consumers do not understand sodium but they know about salt." He says that industry should go ahead and label salt content, adding that many supermarkets either already do it, or are going to.

A proposal to revise the EU nutrition labelling directive is expected later this year, which the FSA hopes will allow salt to be labelled alone. In the meantime, it encourages industry to provide levels of both on packs.

The FSA says it will focus on securing further salt reductions in both cereal and meat products, as they are the biggest contributors. It is also looking at the feasibility of setting upper limits in children's foods and at interim targets for certain categories by 2007.

Michael Hill, sales and marketing director of the bagged snacks division at Kerry Ingredients, says salt reduction is definitely the number one project for its clients this year: "One area where we are particularly making inroads is in children's products, as there is a responsibility to reduce sodium levels there," he says.

"The problem with bagged snacks is that unlike more staple products, such as bread, meat, or cheese, people make a lifestyle choice as to whether they want to eat a bagged snack and sensory analysis has shown that the more salt in it, the more acceptable it is."

The challenge, he says, is to maintain the flavour profile and minimise the price increase. One aspect that his company is looking at is the effect of particle size. A bigger particle size can mean a slower release of flavour, which allows you to use less salt, says Hill.

Cheese supplier Joseph Heler has worked on low-sodium cheese for some years and has managed to reduce levels by up to 50% in pizza cheese. Manufacturers are now showing great interest in such products, it says.

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