In December 2018, Public Health England (PHE) released their report of industry progress towards meeting the 2017 salt targets - Salt targets 2017: progress report.
The report was delayed from March 2018 but having conducted our own surveys exposing the shocking amounts of salt still found in our food, we can’t say we are surprised by the disappointing lack of progress.
Meat products achieved little to no reduction in salt content, yet when their target was set in 2014 it was watered down with no change from the previous 2012 target. Three years on and shockingly, 43% of meat products have still not yet met the maximum target, and none have met the average targets. This target was easily achievable, especially given PHE’s advice that potassium-based replacers could be used, but without PHE’s guidance or monitoring of the food industry, there has been a distinct lack of progress.
Seven product categories have not met any of the average targets set for them, including ready meals/meal centres, soups and meat alternatives, making them some of the biggest contributors to salt intake with huge variability in salt content. In October of this year Action On Salt found that there was as much as 83% difference between the saltiest and least salty meat-alternative products, plus 28% of meat alternatives were higher in salt than their maximum target, which this report confirms.
Half of the top 15 contributors to salt intake have not met their average salt targets, including the top three contributors - bread and rolls, bacon and ready meals/meal centres. Bread and rolls provide the largest proportion of salt to our diet and while we were pleased to see that the majority of retailer bread and rolls meet the maximum target, almost 60% of bread sold out of the home does not, as they have proven much harder to hold to account. Many of the main contributors to salt are more frequently consumed by children, such as ham, pizza and bread, and these foods are also more likely to be consumed by those in lower socioeconomic groups. Stronger action is needed now.
Retailers should be applauded for making progress despite many of their manufacturer competitors continuing to drag their heels. While 73% of retailer products meet their average targets, just 37% of manufacturers meet theirs. If the target has not been 100% met within a category, then it weakens the work done by more responsible companies. Salt must be reduced across the board to achieve the much-needed level-playing field for this voluntary programme to have any success.
A comprehensive programme of salt reduction targets needs to be reignited and if this report tells us anything, it is that the food industry cannot, and must not, be made solely responsibly for lowering our salt intakes. The targets should be made mandatory, with penalties if those targets are not met if we are to save the maximum number of lives.
In response to the report, Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University and Chairman of Action on Salt said: “Such poor progress in PHE’s attempt to reduce salt intake is a national tragedy. This report confirms what we know already – that voluntary targets need comprehensive monitoring and guidance but this has been completely lacking from PHE. As a result, thousands of unnecessary strokes and heart attacks have occurred and billions of pounds wasted by the NHS and tragically more than 4000 premature deaths per year have occurred.”
Click here to view the full report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/salt-targets-2017-progress-report