UK food manufacturers are leading the world when it comes to reducing the salt content in processed foods, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has claimed.
The FDF’s latest survey showed that its members had reformulated £7.4bn worth of products to have lower levels of salt compared to the year before, while £2.4bn worth of products have been launched with lower salt variants.
These claims follow recent heavy criticism of the industry for not doing enough to cut the salt content of bread by the specialist health lobby group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). While CASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine Graham MacGregor has congratulated the industry in the past for what it has done, he would like even more done sooner.
But the FDF has hit back by pointing to its record of achievement in this area. “Food manufacturers have made huge progress in reducing levels of salt in food,” said Julian Hunt, FDF director of communications. “In addition, our members provide 'salt equivalent' information on packs as well as the legally required 'sodium' information where practicable. They are also increasingly providing at-a-glance information on salt on the front of packs to help busy shoppers.”
The government is seeking to reduce the nation’s salt consumption to a maximum of 6g a day for adults and even lower levels for children and babies in a move to reduce high levels of coronary disease. Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). And high blood pressure can triple the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also causes or contributes to more than 170,000 deaths a year in England, says the FSA
To date, sodium levels in bread have been reduced by around 25% since the late 1980s and recently by a further 5% in sliced bread, while breakfast cereals, which have been the subject of intense criticism recently, have achieved a 38% reduction in sodium between 1998 and 2006. This means that breakfast cereals on average now contain less than 0.4g of sodium per 100g, says the FDF.
Meanwhile, sodium levels in savoury snacks have also been reduced over the last 10 years. Potato crisps, for example, are 25% lower in sodium, according to the FDF. And manufacturers have achieved a 28.8% reduction in the sodium content of meal sauces and a 24.5% reduction in soups in the three years ending 2005.