Action on Salt Responds to the National Food Strategy, Calling for a Robust Salt Reduction Programme in a Bid to Tackle the Huge Burden of Diet-related Disease and Ill-health
8 November 2019
Action on Salt, based at Queen Mary University of London, has responded to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy with a very stark warning to government that if lives are to be saved, a robust salt reduction programme must be enforced without further delay.
The expert group has delivered a very detailed evidence-based plan to inform this first major review of the UK food system in nearly 75 years. The recommendations have been adapted from the previous Food Standards Agency (FSA), whose world leading salt reduction policy resulted in a reported 20-40% reduction in the salt content of many food products between 2003 and 2011.
Key elements of Action on Salt’s proposal include:
- Setting gradual, achievable and progressively lower salt targets for different categories of food for all food industry to follow, including the out of home sector, with a clear and feasible time frame. The recent Green Paper highlights that the proposed salt reduction targets for 2023 will only cover the main contributors of salt intake. However, it’s imperative that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) continues salt reduction across all processed food containing added salt, including new categories that currently do not have a target.
- Mandatory annual, transparent monitoring reports to enable accurate tracking of food industry progress, inform policy and maintain momentum.
- Fiscal measures such as levies on industry to be applied to the main contributors of salt to the UK diet, including categories such as processed meat in order to drive reformulation. PHE’s 2018 analysis highlighted that only 43% of meat products had met their targets, but the category contributes over 25% of daily salt intake in adults.
- Mandatory front of pack traffic light labelling, plus a review of labelling in other countries in terms of evaluating and measuring impact.
- Renewed Focus on Public awareness for salt as part of its Change4Life campaign. Since 2009, there have been no national messages on the importance of reducing salt in the diet.
- Regular 24-hour urinary sodium analysis to measure population salt intake in order to evaluate the effectiveness of a salt reduction policy. Measurements must take place at regular intervals (every 2-3 years) to track progress and inform policy.
- DHSC to release guidelines to recommend use of potassium salt. A review by SACN and CoT has deemed the use of potassium salt in food to be safe for general consumption, with the benefits having a large impact at the population level. Therefore, in the few food categories where salt reduction still proves to be challenging, replacement of salt with potassium salt should be encouraged as a short-term measure.
- Stricter salt reduction targets for the Out of Home (OOH) sector, aligning them with retail targets. This should include a mandatory target of 1g/100g for all bread products sold both in retail and out of home, to help bring the out of home sector in line. Progress must be monitored by local authorities who will be responsible for providing adequate guidance for SME’s to engage with reformulation programmes and obtain advice from experts in food innovation and technology.
- OOH sector should, be required to provide nutrition information online, with a phased approach to providing that information at the point of sale. If this is not done voluntarily, then a thorough review on menu labelling by the DHSC should be carried out, with high salt warning labels on all dishes with more than 5g of salt per portion – along with a lower threshold for children’s meals if the OOH sector does not engage with voluntary salt reduction.
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chair of Action on Salt, says "Reducing salt is by far the simplest and most cost-effective public health measure to improve health and reduce incidence of cardiovascular disease, as evidenced on a global scale. The deaths that have occurred due to inaction, which would have largely been preventable, is a tragedy for public health, and accelerates the urgent need for salt reduction. The Secretary of State for Health must now commit to setting new and ambitious salt targets for 2020, with strict monitoring mechanisms to ensure all members of the food industry comply.”
Mhairi Brown, Nutritionist and Policy and Public Affairs Coordinator at Action on Salt says “It is time to resuscitate the UK’s once world-leading salt reduction programme, with mandatory targets and penalties if they are not met. Government must be bold to create that necessary level playing field for salt reduction, and no longer allow the food industry to dictate public health policy. With strong leadership, reformulation has the potential to be the most effective public health programme available.”
Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt says “Our research has shown time and time again the large variation in salt content of similar foods, proving reformulation is easily achievable without compromising on taste. Eating too much salt puts us at risk of suffering from heart disease or stroke, which is of public health concern as many of us eat much more salt than the recommended limit of 6g per day, with salt intake in the UK averaging 8g per day. The challenge facing consumers is that many do not realise they have a high salt diet because the majority of it is already added to everyday foods. Clear labelling on front of packaging and on menu’s, will help customers make a more informed choice.”
National PR – David Clarke: firstname.lastname@example.org M: 07773 225516
Twitter: @actiononsalt #LessSalt #saltawarenessweek
Notes to editors:
Action on Salt is a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, supported by 24 expert scientific members. Action on Salt is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.
In the early 2000’s the UK pioneered a salt reduction strategy with the Food Standards Agency and Action on Salt with the setting of incremental salt targets, so that the food industry was slowly reducing the huge and unnecessary amounts of salt they add to food. This resulted in a fall in UK population salt intake, a fall in average blood pressure and more than 12,000 lives have been saved from preventing strokes and heart disease. However, in 2010 responsibility for salt reduction was switched to the Department of Health and the food industry was made responsible for policing itself, a policy that unsurprisingly failed. Further salt reduction targets were set to be achieved by the end of 2017 but little action has been taken to ensure the food industry is meeting these targets. PHE are now responsible for the UK salt reduction programme but so far have done little or nothing. All of the above has meant that the salt reduction programme has been slowed down with the result that many thousands of people have died unnecessarily and huge and unnecessary costs have been incurred by the NHS. Salt is the forgotten killer; the time has come for PHE to allocate sufficient resources to immediately resuscitate the UK salt reduction programme.