Foodex 2014

‘It will be war on sugar and salt’: Michael Portillo

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt levels

Food and drink manufacturers face “war” on sugar and salt, warns broadcaster and former cabinet minister Michael Portillo.

Consumers and government working together in “a pincer action” ​will result in new legislation and taxes to reduce salt and sugar in foods, Portillo told a seminar at the Foodex show yesterday (March 24), at the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham.

Speaking after the seminar, Portillo told FoodManufacture.co.uk in this exclusive video interview: “A lot of consumers are going to be concerned about sugar and salt and other additives. I think what the market does not do, as consumers change their habits, governments will do. It will be a bit like the smoking ban – it’s happening around the world. One government will take comfort from the fact that another government is taking action in this field.”

‘Bourgeoisification of the working class’

During the seminar, Portillo attributed consumer pressure for action on salt and sugar to the working class increasingly adopting middle class values – particularly with regard to food. “There is a bourgeoisification of the working class in Britain, heavily influenced by television. Working class people are adopting middle class habits, among which is an interest in food, cooking it and its provenance,”​ he said.

“British consumers will become more and more interested in healthy eating – but probably not quickly enough for the British government. In other words, the government is going to find itself intervening in the market pretty strongly with legislation, with taxes, with interventions in the market, to hurry the reduction of salt and sugar in foods.”

Portillo also predicted that the high speed train link – known as HS2 – between London and the north of England will go ahead as planned, with northern cities proving to be the main ​beneficiaries.

Technical barriers

During the panel discussion, Sara Autton, chairman of the British Society of Baking, said while the industry had cut salt levels significantly, technical barriers frustrated further reductions.

“We have been reducing salt in bread unilaterally for a number of years now,” ​said Autton. “The difficulty in reducing salt levels further than they are now, is that we are getting to the level where it’s becoming more technologically difficult to make bread that people recognise as bread, that tastes good and that has its keeping quality.”

​We trying to challenge the taste buds of the public and there’s no doubt the Great British palate has got used to lower salt levels. But there needs to be more work put in by the industry to find more ways of getting flavour into bread, so people continue to enjoy it as part of a healthy balanced diet without adding further salt.”

Watch out for more reports and video interviews from Foodex later this week.

Foodex took place between Monday March 24 and Wednesday March 26.  

Related topics: Legal

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1 comment

Sugar and salt reduction

Posted by Dr Tom Kelly,

The Government's efforts to reduce sugar and salt will be quite meaningless unless they accept that obesity is the real prob;em, not levels of ingredients. If people continue to eat the same quantities of food with or without salt and sugar reduction, they will still be putting their health at risk, and adding costs to the NHS. Quantity, not composition should be the real target.

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