This news has emerged even though average salt intake for adults (8.5g/day) is still above the 6g a day maximum recommended by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to maintain cardiovascular health.
Despite briefing the food industry that there are no plans to toughen up 2012 salt targets, publicly the DoH said that no decision had yet been made about what will happen after 2012.
A DoH spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk that no decision would be made until April 2012, after the Responsibility Deal Food Network High Level Steering Group, chaired by Dr Susan Jebb, head of diet and population health at the the Medical Research Council, had met to review the work on salt reduction – including looking at what industry had achieved to date.
Many industry commentators are convinced that the plans to downplay the role of salt are a prelude to the DoH dropping the targets entirely and, instead, concentrating on the obesity strategy launched by health secretary Andrew Lansley in October. This will focus on calorie reduction pledges by the food industry, which will be launched in the New Year.
“I think that would be dangerous,” shadow public health minister Diane Abbott told FoodManufacture.co.uk. “Salt as we know has a particular relationship with hypertension… So simply talking about calories wouldn’t begin to meet the health issues that we are all concerned about.” A spokesman for Abbott said she would be raising the issue in parliament.
Before responsibility for nutrition and health was transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the DoH in 2010, the salt campaign had encouraged the food industry to reformulate products to reduce their salt content. Lower salt levels were set for 2012 than the targets originally set for 2010 and further reductions were planned for subsequent years.
Graham MacGregor, chairman of the lobbying organisation Consensus Action on Salt and Health and Professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, confirmed to FoodManufacture.co.uk that he had also heard that the government planned to downgrade its focus on salt reduction by the food industry.
‘Lost the plot’
MacGregor described Lansley’s obesity strategy as “chaotic”. “There isn’t [a strategy], which is so frustrating … he just seems to have lost the plot,” said MacGregor. “There are no coherent policies.”
A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said the doctors’ organisation had pulled out of the alcohol responsibility deal earlier this year because it “did not have faith in the process”. She added that the BMA had not joined the responsibility deal on food for the same reason.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium are understood to be commissioning a research project to examine the technical constraints to salt reduction.