Claims by the chairman of the Society of Food Hygiene Technology (SOFHT) that there is little scientific evidence to justify manufacturers cutting salt levels further has been branded "complete balls" by a leading heart specialist.
Neil Griffiths' comments are likely to put him on a collision course with medics at a joint conference of SOFHT and the Royal Society of Chemists in March.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St George's Hospital Medical School, London and chairman of the Blood Pressure Association, said Griffiths was trying to ignite a debate over nutrition policy which flew in the face of science.
MacGregor said that the independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) had concluded after two years' investigation that salt was to blame for a high average blood pressure in the UK, which accounted for half of all strokes and heart attacks.
"There's no argument about that. The time for argument is over," said MacGregor. "You have sections of the industry which are desperate to find some evidence to the contrary. The only reason for doubt about salt is the influence of the food industry."
He said that epidemiological studies, human migration evidence, intervention studies, treatment trials, genetic studies and animal science all pointed to the same conclusion -- that high salt intake was bad for you.
He believed the government would reach its target of cutting individual salt intake by 6g/day within five years. As a result there would be 70,000 fewer strokes and heart attacks a year in the UK, half of which would have been fatal.
MacGregor slammed food industry attempts to cast doubt on the science as "a bit antediluvian" although he acknowledged that cuts would involve extra effort and costs in manufacturing.
However, much of the industry has conceded the fight. Gavin Neath, Food and Drink Federation president and chair of Unilever UK, has already said his company would continue to reduce salt levels "in an effort to make a positive contribution to the diet and health of the nation"
Griffiths, who is not a nutritionist, said his reading of hundreds of scientific papers published over several decades had left him "surprisingly unconvinced that general advice to reduce salt intake was justified or would produce any significant public health benefit"
His views will be presented in a background paper to the spring conference, which will debate the science behind nutrition policy.