Consensus Action on Salt and Health

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Labelling survey

  • CASH investigates the range of labelling used on food products

11 May 2005

Labelling full data [DOC 45KB]

A new study from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) highlights the urgent need for clear, consistent salt labelling if UK shoppers are ever going to be able to choose lower-salt foods.

Out of 161 foods surveyed by CASH:
• Less than half (47%) gave the salt content per portion on the pack
• Only 1 in 10 (9.3%) gave the salt content on the front of the pack
• Only 3% gave the correct guideline daily amount (GDA) for salt (a maximum limit of 6g per day for adult men and women.)   
• 25% gave no information at all on salt or sodium content

“We know that more and more people understand that excess salt leads to high blood pressure and therefore to strokes and heart attacks,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH.  “But when they go shopping and try to find lower salt foods, they get precious little help from the on-pack labelling.

“The food industry has had several years’ notice that it needs to provide clear salt labelling, and yet our survey shows that most companies still aren’t helping consumers to avoid high salt products,” continues Professor MacGregor.  “We are particularly concerned that some retailers are so inconsistent in their labelling, with some lines giving good salt information and others giving very little information, if at all. For instance, some Sainsbury’s ready meals give the salt content per portion, but its tinned vegetable ravioli gives only the sodium content per 100g, meaning that the buyer has to calculate the salt content per portion themselves.  What is the point of encouraging people to check the labels and choose lower-salt foods if the labels do not carry that information in a simple, easy-to-understand and consistent way?”   

“We want all foods in the UK to label their salt content on the front of the pack, together with an easy way to see whether the food’s salt content is high, medium or low salt, according to the Food Standards Agency’s criteria, ” says Penelope Gilbert, Nutritionist for CASH.   “And all foods must be consistent in labelling the 6g of salt per day guideline daily amount (GDA) for adults.  In order for people to make comparisons between products, we also need labels to declare the salt and sodium per 100g, the weight of a portion of the food and the amount of salt per portion.  In our survey, only 2 out of 161 products gave all this information.”

The CASH survey looked at a selection of own-label and branded products from the main UK retailers.  Categories surveyed were ready meals; meal portions; sauces; tinned or glass jar vegetables; tinned, fresh and dried pasta, as well as some miscellaneous products.

The quality of labelling of own-label products varied widely between retailers, with the Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Asda and Iceland providing the best information for consumers and Lidl and Costcutter providing little or no information on salt.

Of the categories surveyed, tinned and jarred vegetables were poorly labelled, with only 24% declaring their salt per portion.  By comparison, almost 76% of ready meals provided this information.  

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