Salt intake must be reduced

Thursday 15 May 2003

Official release

At long last the FSA(Food Standards Agency)and the DOH(Department of Health)have finally recommended a reduction in salt intake from an average in the UK of 10-12 g/day to 6 g/day following recommendations from their expert independent nutritional committee (SACN)*.

These recommendations were originally made ten years ago, but were rejected by the previous Conservative government after immense pressure from the food industry**.

Since 1996 CASH(Consensus Action on Salt and Health) has campaigned to try and get the issue back on the public agenda***.

The recommended reduction is for a 50% reduction in salt intake. As 80% of our current salt intake now comes from salt hidden in processed, canteen, fast and restaurant food, individuals cannot make the reduction themselves as the salt they use only makes up approximately 15% of our current salt intake. This means that the salt concentration of all processed foods must be reduced by at least 50%. This cannot be done straightaway.
The strategy that CASH has recommended and has now been adopted by the FSA is for a gradual (10-25%), but sustained reduction in the salt concentration of all these foods. This reduction cannot be detected by the public, causes no problems with food processing and should be made immediately and repeated in two to three years time.

Supermarkets have already started to make these reductions. ASDA reduced salt by 10-25% (average 12%) in all their own label products without any technical, safety or taste problems. ASDA have pledged to make a further 10% reduction by 2004. Their products are made by large food companies that make some of the well known brands, and there is no reason why their well known brands cannot be reduced immediately.
The food industry now needs to take greater responsibility for its customers as Kerry Pollard, MP for St Albans, who has played a leading role in campaigning in the Houses of Parliament said, "manufacturers and retailers must take more responsibility for the Nation’s diet and should work together to offer healthier foods with less salt to their customers".

The FSA is in negotiation with much of the food industry to try and ensure that similar reductions are made throughout the food chain. Given the track record of the food industry and the fact that they have managed to delay even agreement about the salt target for over 10 years, the FSA is going to need nerves and a backbone of steel in negotiating with the food industry to ensure reductions throughout the food chain and to ensure, over the next 10 years, a 50% reduction in salt concentration of all processed foods.

The public need to be aware, of the commercial reasons, why salt is so important to the food industry. It makes completely unpalatable food edible at virtually no cost. The higher the salt concentration, the greater the habituation or even, some would say, the addiction to high salt foods and an increase in consumption of very cheap processed foods that are full of salt (often equivalent to seawater) and fat, but with large profits to the industry especially in children****. At the same time, increasing salt concentration increases water binding capacity, e.g. meat products (the weight of the food can be increased at no cost). Our total salt intake is the major determinant of thirst. The higher our salt intake, the greater the consumption of soft drinks and mineral waters*****.

CASH welcomes the SACN report but calls on all food manufacturers to take action today by reducing the salt concentration of these products by a minimum of 10% and to continue these reductions over the next 10 years.
The benefits of salt reduction are immense. A 3 g reduction in salt intake, which could be achieved in the next 5 years if the whole of the food industry collaborated, would lead to a 22% reduction in stroke and a 16% reduction in coronary heart disease. These are the commonest causes of death and disability in the UK. This would save 35,000 deaths a year in the UK and approximately 70,000 strokes and heart attack events.


Notes to editors
• The SACN report, Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, an independent committee for the Food Standards Agency recommends that the intake be reduced to no more than 6g a day for adults and importantly less for children. 0-6 months require a target intake of less than 1 g a day, 7-12 months 1 g a day, 1-3 years 2 grams a day, 4-6 years 3 grams a day, 7-10 years 5 grams a day and 11-14 years 6 grams a day.
*** For further information please visit our website on