Bakers hit back against high salt variation claims

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Salt Bread

Bakers hit back against high salt variation claims
Plant bakers have defended their use of salt after being slammed by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) for not doing enough to cut the salt...

Plant bakers have defended their use of salt after being slammed by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) for not doing enough to cut the salt content of bread. According to the campaign group, salt in bread causes many of the 7,000 “unnecessary” deaths a year attributable to high salt diets.

CASH looked at 138 loaves of wrapped bread - branded and own-label - in UK retailers and compared the salt content as declared on the labels. The group claimed that fifty of the loaves surveyed (36%) contained more than the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) target salt level for bread of 1.1g salt per 100g.

But the industry has hit back, accusing CASH of being “mischievous” by omitting to mention in the statement it issued last week that bakers were working with the FSA to achieve its target by 2010. More important to the FSA than salt levels in individual loaf brands, claimed Federation of Bakers director Gordon Polson, was the “sales weighted average” salt target for bread, which took into account the total amount of different breads sold. “This is a more accurate and onerous target,” claimed Polson.

“There has already been a 10% reduction in the two years to the end of 2005 and further reductions will be made to meet the 2010 target,” he added. “Although our members are happy to be working with the FSA on this issue, the reduction of salt in bread thus far has been immensely challenging for the entire industry as salt plays such a critical role in dough formation.” However, he recognised that taste as well as technical reasons were an issue in some higher salt products, particularly the more niche products. And there were also variations in salt content between different regions of the country, he added. “We haven’t hidden the fact that there is a taste factor here as well,” he added. “If there are different products with different salt levels, it’s not hidden, it’s there for everyone to see.”

According to CASH, bread is the biggest source of salt in people’s diets and contributes up to 25% of all dietary salt intake. “There is a huge variation in identical breads,” said CASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine Graham MacGregor. Those containing the highest levels were found to contain two-and-half-times as much salt as the lowest. While acknowledging that the industry had reduced salt in bread over the years, he called for more to be done. He dismissed technical arguments sometimes used by the industry for retaining high salt levels as “complete and utter rubbish”

The highest salt products, containing 1.5g salt per 100g, were Asda’s White Big Loaf and Morrison’s The Best Farmhouse Malted Bread, claimed CASH. However, branded products, such as Warburtons, also came in for criticism. The survey found that 15 out of 18 products under the Warburtons brand had salt contents higher than the FSA target. In contrast, all of the Sainsbury and Waitrose breads surveyed were below it. “Warburtons in my view could do a lot more,” added MacGregor. “As one of the biggest manufacturers they should begin taking that responsibility.”

The reason that some bakers and retailers were not doing more, claimed MacGregor, was through fears that they would lose sales if they removed more salt. “It’s clear that bread can be produced with lower levels of salt with no effect on sales.” With up to 20% salt reduction, consumers could not tell the difference, he added. “If Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer can do it now, why not the others?” He also called on the public to boycott higher salt breads.

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