The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published its revised salt reduction targets for 2012 for 80 categories of foods.
The FSA said the new voluntary targets support the FSA’s commitment to reducing people’s average salt intake to 6g a day. Previous 2010 targets were set in 2006. “Many manufacturers and retailers have made considerable reductions in salt levels and the revised targets reflect this progress,” said the FSA. “However, salt levels still vary considerably between different products and there is clearly scope for some parts of industry to do more.”
The targets have been set for foods that contribute the most salt to our diet, such as bread, meat products, cereals, pizza, ready meals and savoury snacks. The FSA estimates that 75% of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy.
As salt levels have been reduced in foods, salt consumption in the UK appears to have declined. According to the FSA, the latest evidence (from 2008) indicates that people’s average salt intake is 8.6g - 0.9g lower than in 2000-2001.
Rosemary Hignett, FSA head of nutrition, said: “The UK is leading the way in Europe and beyond in salt reduction. The reductions which have already been achieved in the UK are already saving lives.
“To continue to make progress we have set 2012 targets at levels that will make a further real impact on consumers’ intakes, whilst taking into account technical and safety issues associated with taking salt out of food.”
However, pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) said manufacturers were displaying mixed levels of enthusiasm about meeting the 2012 targets. "The categories we are most concerned about are bread, ham and bacon," said professor Graham MacGregor, CASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine at St George's Hospital Medical School, London. "Bread accounts for a fifth of the salt we eat in the UK, and ham and bacon 8%, so it is vital the salt content is reduced if we are to save the maximum number of lives."
CASH proposed salt content of bread be set at 0.75g per 100g. The FSA's 2012 target calls for 0.93g per 100g. However, the bakers are pushing for 1g per 100g.
Julian Hunt, communications director of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said: "It's great to see the FSA recognises that manufacturers have made considerable reductions in salt levels to date, and - as we have been saying for some time - that the UK is leading the world in this area."
The FSA said it would work closely with industry on the 2012 targets, pledging to run further public awareness activity on salt in autumn 2009.
Hunt said FDF's members were committed to working with the FSA to continue cutting salt levels and provide low salt products "where technologically possible, safe and acceptable to consumers"
Consumer watchdog Which? urged the food industry not to become complacent in their work on salt. "The food industry must commit to meeting these targets if they are serious about combating diet-related disease," said Which? chief policy advisor Sue Davies.