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Action on Salt

House of Commons


As part of Salt Awareness Week 2013, CASH held a lunchtime reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday 13th March, hosted by David Amess MP. Over 100 people attended the reception, including MP's, peers, NGOs and members of the food industry. Presentations were made by:

- David Amess, Event Sponsor & Conservative MP for Southend West
- Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH
- Diane Abbott, Shadow Minister for Public Health
- Raymond Blanc, Celebrity Chef  and CASH Supportor

The Reception is endorsed by the Association for Nutrition

Special thank you to Robert Harris for the photography and video 

You can read what they had to say below:

David Amess, MP

My Lords, ladies and gentlemen…I’d like to start by congratulating Katharine and the team from CASH for their hard work in bringing everyone here this afternoon. A great deal of effort goes in to these events, and we are very, very grateful for all that they have done. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s no good just talking to ourselves, there is a very clear message from our event this afternoon which I would like to share with you. But I do think it is a good opportunity to network, so do make sure that the LoSalt people talk to the Co-op, Jamie Oliver’s people talk to the Blood Pressure nurses here and so on, let’s make this a good networking event.

Now, the thing that I wanted to highlight was new research by CASH. I don’t think it got huge publicity in the newspapers, but they conducted research to find out what our people dining out at restaurants felt about the food, and then a test was done to find out how much salt was in the food that was being eaten. I was elected to parliament in 1983 and I was on the health select committee for 10 years, and was the instigator of the inquiry that we conducted into obesity. And if only our recommendations had been acted on at the time then we wouldn’t have to be here talking about the dangers of fat, salt and sugar. But there we are, onwards and upwards. Now this survey found out that of nearly 700 meals, over half of those 700 meals, were high in salt. 13 meals surveyed had more than 6g of salt per meal, which is the maximum recommendation for a whole day. That’s just unbelievable that 13 of those meals served up had the full maximum.

But Jamie’s Italian had, I’m sad to report, the highest salt dish surveyed, containing nearly one and a half times the daily maximum recommendation for salt, but it’s great that Jamie has sent along his team today, and they have now signed up to the [Salt reduction] pledge.

Heston’s Dinner was shown to be the best restaurant, with all meals surveyed containing less than 1.5g, so let us applaud Heston’s. 54% of the people surveyed found that restaurant meals were too salty, and 70% of people surveyed think chefs should be responsible for helping them to eat less salt.

So the 5 top saltiest main deals were - we haven’t got anyone from Wetherspoons here have we? They were the saltiest, 8.9g that was gammon with eggs, chips, peas, tomato and flat mushroom. The second were Jamie’s Italian. Third were Carluccio’s with 8g salt portion, 4th anyone here from Gordon Ramsay’s enterprise? Ok, they were 4th. This was at the savoy grill, and that was steamed mussels, cider cream sauce and fries, 7.3g. And finally 5th were Wagamama’s Yaki Udon, with 7g salt.

Now as I’ve already said, Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc, where’s Raymond? Round of applause for Raymond! They’ve already committed to reducing salt levels, so we want the other 4 sinners to do this as well.
A few words about fast food outlets, we’ve got someone from McDonalds lurking here. If anyone from the other fast food outlets are here, put your hands up. So these were dishes containing over 2.4g salt per portion. In first place - this is like the Oscar’s - were Pizza Hut, 93%, Second were domino’s pizza, 79%, third were burger king, 64%, fourth were Kentucky fried chicken, 60%. Where is my friend from McDonald’s? Give him a round of applause; at least he was brave enough to be here! And actually, next door at the Churchill room are McDonalds who are doing a wonderful thing promoting sport; they were way down with 26%, so that was pretty good, on the back of the Olympic Games last year, and in 6th place were Subway with 18%.
Now, National Salt Awareness Week is encouraging everyone to eat less salt, and to enjoy the real flavour of their food. And CASH is using this week to ask for less salt please, showing how everyone, including chefs, can use less salt and still enjoy the great flavour of their food.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t want to have this event next year. We want everyone to have been signed up to this frankly. You know I’m sick to death of hearing about traffic lights, less sugar, less fat and less salt. I salute CASH for organising this event, but my message before handing over to, Raymond is, find out who your member of parliament is, it’s no good saying that you don’t know who your member of parliament is, just Google it and find out who they are. Say ‘I listened to David Amess on the 13th day of March 2013, and he said you should join, the campaign and sign up to less salt’. So if anything comes of this event, please get your local member of parliament to sign up to less salt in what we eat.

Raymond Blanc OBE

Thank you very much David. Maybe I should start with a little anecdote. When I arrived in Great Britain, it was a frightening experience for me. I’m a totally self-taught chef, and from the moment I started cooking, in a tiny little place between a ladies underwear shop and Oxfam - so very unglamorous - I cooked my heart out. And I was very excited to prepare my first dishes and see my customers eating them. But then my first two customers came, I became less excited, they were businessmen in striped suits. So I gave them my two dishes, and through my kitchen I could actually open up the door and see the reaction of those guests. And they stopped talking about business and they looked at their food, that was my first victory! But then, a terrible thing happened, they jumped on the salt and pepper and murdered the food in front of me while I was watching them two metres away!

So, of course, salt is an issue. David has just told us now about the report on the food and the report on many restaurants. Brasserie Blanc had 3 dishes tested. Two dishes did absolutely brilliantly well, very low salt, and one dish didn’t do so well at all. But in my defence, I will say, because I feel aggrieved by it; we train our team, we have proper recipes, there is a tremendous system and organisation to ensure that the seasoning is right, and right means low seasoning. So I think there is something wrong in the [survey’s] measurement, and I’ll tell you why. If you have a cured fish, it’s bound to have a different salt level than if you have a plain piece of French beans or plain steak. When it’s cured it means the salt effectively permeates the food, and therefore it’s bound to be more salty like skippers or smoked salmon, or indeed smoked haddock like the dish that was tested, it was a smoked haddock risotto. So in my defence, I would say please change your system cured fish should be measured separately from all other food  then you have a proper reading.

When I first came to Great Britain, being a self-taught chef was a very difficult time, because I had to train other people whilst I was also training myself. But when I came over here I immediately noticed that the salt was very high, sugar level was very high, fat level was very high. So I trained my chefs consistently, and actually the first thing you do when you come to Le Manoir as a chef, is you are put to a salt test. Maybe that’s what you should be doing in your kitchens as well! And the salt test is very simple. I give 10 glasses to my new chefs, with different amounts of salt in then. Some will have no salt, some will be very under-salted, some perfectly salted for my palate – I’m the judge remember – and then some completely over-salted. And I ask the chefs to tell me which ones have got no salt, which one’s are completely over-salted, and which ones are right. And that seems to be a very easy thing to do, but it isn’t. It allows me to see the criminal who is going to completely kill my food by having a high salt palate. And it will allow me to see the one who has a slightly under salted palate. I also repeat this test with spices and with acid and sugar, to ensure they don’t murder my food, like my first customers did.
I think it’s quite exciting to see what is happening today. At last, we are reconnecting with our food values, we are reconnecting with our food culture, we understand that food connects with everything. For many years we have lost the value and quality of our food.  Our system was based on intensive farming and processing with a lot of salt and a lot of sugar, a lot of trans fats. So it’s quite fascinating to see, at last, that now we are conscious of it, and that actually food, connects with everything.
So it’s marvellous that there’s such a campaign, to really reconnect us with our food – let’s eat healthy, let’s eat better food, and to me, good health goes with better food, they are intrinsically linked together.

So I will give you my 10 salt commandments which you can easily do at home, and is what I give to my chefs:
1. First, season your food only lightly. You should have very fresh, local ingredients. Let the food talk for itself!
2. When you start seasoning, always add a tiny little bit at the beginning, to let the salt penetrate the food, because if you add it at the end the salt sits outside and is very aggressive in taste.
3. Taste, taste, taste your food, all of the time! And see how the flavour grows, see how you can maximise the flavours
4. Remember a good little trick, I teach my chefs and they have to do it perfectly. Measure 1g of salt as a pinch. We all know that we only need 6g of salt a day, so why do some people put 25g of salt?  One gram, if you use the horrible nasty little salt that most people use, it is a tiny little pinch, but if you use the big flaky salts you need a larger pinch
5. Please don’t jump on the salt box! If you have a salt box, just leave it alone, just add a tiny little amount, don’t murder your food with the salt.
6. You’ve got to remember that we use salt, and processors use a lot of salt, because salt is able to correct, or improve food, which otherwise doesn’t taste very nice. So salt is a catalyst of flavour.  It covers things up, and it also enhances flavours. But remember, you’ve got loads of different catalysts of flavours! You’ve got lemon, citric acid, acetic acid, any acid, wow you see that flavour singing! Building up, it’s fantastic.
7. Include herbs to your dishes, delicious flavours from your garden. It will enhance your food no end, and you will create new recipes and so on.
8. Sour, bitter, put a bit of chocolate in your sauce, bitter, very bitter chocolate. Put a bit of zest of grapefruit, a zest of lemon, something bitter. You’ll be amazed what these things can do and help your seasoning.
9. Spice, any spice, a bit of black pepper, cayenne pepper can lift food no end, and then you only finish off with a correction of the salt, rather than put lots of salt and the very beginning of it.

We are a bi-product of our own education, and with a lack of food education in our schools and homes, we have lost our connection with food, and therefore eat a lot of salt, sugar and fat. We know the billions of pounds that have been spent on the health service, and the millions of families who are suffering from all the related diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc. So it’s a serious business.

So let’s reconnect with our food, let’s all reconnect with the simple art of cooking. Let’s cook! 75% of our salt intake comes from processed foods! It doesn’t come from homes. So the processors have a fantastic opportunity to improve this record, and teach and train their customers by lowering the salt little by little, which would be brilliant, the best way to do it.

Let’s reconnect with the simple art of cooking, please, it is so important.. Learn how to cook, it’s the most rewarding thing you can do, and it’s so simple. Believe me! When you know how to pan fry a steak, or do an omelette, and when you know how to steam something, it can be reiterated a thousand times. When you learn one technique you know how to cook, it’s as simple as that.

My new program is all about technique, and it will teach you the basic cooking skills, and it’s so easy, so rewarding. It’s so exciting when you share that meal that you’ve cooked yourself, and please, don’t use very much salt. Thank you very much indeed.

David Amess MP
Well Raymond, we all salute your passion, that was fantastic and I certainly hadn’t expected to be given some cooking tips. I’ve just had a phone call from a TV program called “Come Dine With Me” and you have now been recruited to give them some advice on the use of salt.
Can we now welcome Diane Abbott who is the Shadow Minister for Public Health.

Diane Abbott MP
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here to be able to say a few words in support of National Salt Awareness Week. The first thing to mention is the NHS costs related to many of the long term conditions associated with excessive salt intake, whether its hypertension, stoke, diabetes, an increasing proportion of the health service budget is taken up with these long term conditions, not to mention people that lose their lives to strokes and other things. So it’s not just a concern for the individual, it’s also a concern for the country, and the budget and expenditure. It does seem to me that if we are seeking to contain energy expenditure going forward, the right way to do it is to deal with these public health issues from the very beginning and limit the costs that can happen as things go on.

There’s been a lot of work done on this issue, and this week is part of it. But one of the reasons people don’t know about their salt intake is that people eat so much more processed food and takeaway food than they ever did when I was a child. When I was a child, the only takeaway you could get in my area was a Wimpy. I remember when McDonalds came in, I thought they were the height of glamour. And so, from having one Wimpy bar in my high street, you now have the situation where on street after street you go past all of these outlets, fried chicken outlets, hamburger outlets, cake shops, all offering food with too much sugar, fat and salt.

We live in an obesogenic environment, but we also live in a kind of saltogenic environment, too much of the food that people consume without thinking, whether it’s a bag of crisps, or even these so called health bars, has too much salt in. I was very impressed to hear that passionate defence of cooking [from Raymond], because at least if you cook your own food, you know exactly how much salt there is in it. And to say something about Britain’s diverse communities: many of the foods and dishes which Britain’s diverse communities enjoy the most have huge amounts of salt, and the people who eat them don’t really know. I was shocked, to find out that my favourite Jamaican jerk chicken with rice and peas has enough salt for a week (or something like that!), so there’s a whole issue about getting people information about salt in foods, particularly salt in foods that they are eating out, or taking away, or getting at cafeterias and snack bars, but it’s one of the simple things we can do to help our health as individuals.

So I’m very glad to be here supporting this event, and hopefully we can continue to make progress on this very vexed issue of the fact that so much food we eat has far too much salt in it.

David Amess MP
Thank you Diane. Ladies and gentlemen, while Raymond was speaking, the Public Health Minister Anna Soubry was here, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to interrupt Raymond for one of my colleagues. But I better just tell you what the message she wanted to share with you was.

“Too much salt is bad for our health and can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke, which is why through the Responsibility Deal we are working with companies to reduce the amount of salt in their foods. We have already seen reductions in salt levels in every day food such as bread, cereals and sauces, but more needs to be done. We will soon be announcing our updated salt strategy, including a review of Responsibility Deal salt targets, where we’ll start with a focus on getting more from the catering sector to take action and reduce salt levels in their food.”

Ladies and gentleman, after 3 decades of listening to strategies, I want some action. Please will you welcome, the Chairman of CASH, Professor Graham MacGregor.

Professor Graham MacGregor
David, thank you very much, you’ve given a masterly talk about our survey so you’ve relieved me of having to talk about it. Thanks also to Raymond and  Diana for your talks. The fact that Anna Soubry (Public Health Minister) was here as well is great. Now, we are focusing this year on food eaten outside the home, partly because that has been ignored with the success of bringing the retail products down by around 20-30%. This has resulted in a fall in salt intake of 1.4g, 15%, which has already saved at least 9,000 lives a year.  So it is fantastic what has been achieved in the last 7 years, but we’ve got a lot more to achieve. And off course we’ve got great problems with the current government and their Responsibility Deal, which my colleague Simon Capewell likened to ‘putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank’. The food industry have been made responsible for policing themselves and this has been a bit of a nightmare for us, compared to the system we developed with the Food Standards Agency, but we have to make it work, and we are struggling, but succeeding.

One thing about the survey, which has not been mentioned, is that 60% of the public, when they go out to eat, think there’s too much salt in their food. So the public are getting the message, and the chefs have got to listen. It’s not only chefs in celebrity restaurants, although we certainly stirred up a lot of fighting spirit amongst them, including Jamie Oliver and Raymond, but it’s all the chefs in the whole catering industry who are adding too much salt, and we really need to get that message out to the catering companies. We’ve had positive response from Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and many other companies have said they are going to re-double their efforts.

In relation to the Responsibility Deal, we are very pleased to see that Anna Soubry has agreed to reset the targets, which were let to slip for 4 years, and as a result we have lost time where further reductions in salt added to food would have been made.

But we have to deal with the system. We’re going to get the salt intake down, whoever is in power. That’s our position, we’re not going to give way, and they need to know that. We are supporting this initiative [Responsibility Deal], much as we would like to go to the other system, but we will make it  work.

Salt Awareness Week doesn’t end here;  the week has been a huge UK event, with tonnes of leaflets sent out to events all over the country. And internationally we’ve had the biggest response ever. You may be aware of WASH, which is very successful with salt initiatives in many countries, surprisingly particularly in South America; Brazil, Argentina and Chile are very advanced in public health, and they’ll probably overtake the UK in the next few years. The president of Brazil is personally involved in getting salt intake down. South Africa is another one, where they are actually regulating the amount of salt in their food. Interestingly, the big food companies have said they preferred regulation to a voluntary program, as it gave them a level playing field. As long as they know that everyone else is doing the same, they’ll do it. When they see one company not doing it, that’s when problems occur. Perhaps David [Amess] would like to talk to Anna [Soubry]about that problem, because I would like to see a much stricter enforcement of our voluntary policy, someone really banging the table saying ‘you’re going to do it and if you don’t I’m going to name and shame, and if you persist, we’ll legislate’, because then we’ll get action.

Particular thanks to David Amess for sponsoring us and giving a brilliant talk. Raymond, he’s always fantastic, and tremendous to have Diane here.

Of course we had a lot of support from companies, so thank you to them; Heinz, Kudos blends, Lo Salt, Mackie’s of Scotland, Mars, Marks & Spencer, McCain, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Smart Salt, Sodexo, Subway, The Co-operative, and Waitrose.

And then we’ve had tremendous support from the other charities; Alzheimer’s Society, Blood Pressure UK, British Heart Foundation, Campaign Better Hospital Food, Cancer Research UK, Children’s Food Campaign, Diabetes UK, Heart Research UK, Kidney Research UK, Ménière’s Society, Men’s Health Forum, National Heart Forum, National Obesity Forum, National Osteoporosis Society, Polycystic Kidney Disease Charity, The Real Bread Campaign (Sustain), The Stroke Association, The Women’s Institute and the World Cancer Research Fund UK. We have now got a coalition of health charities, in fact, all of the health charities to support us and that’s been tremendous and we’d like to thank them.

And last but not least, I’d like to thank the organisers, particularly Katharine who you all know has done a fantastic job, and Kawther, Sonia, Clare our press team Taste and Marketeers, who arranged a very large number of radio programs as well. So thanks very much David, and thanks to all of you for coming. We are going to get salt intake down, we will work with whoever is in power and make sure they do it, and if they don’t do it they will hear from us.

David Amess
Now to finish off the day, we’ll have a few minutes of questions. We have a very senior civil servant here, who is going to join us so if you want to ask questions please feel free.

Bob Michell, CASH Member
Just to follow up on the point made by Raymond, Diane and Graham, when we admit that most of the salt that most people take is not their choice, but is put there by the processors. It identifies, as identified in the pharmaceutical journal at the beginning of February, that this problem is exactly the same as the problem of passive smoking, the intake of a health hazard that you do not chose to take, you take by accident but is still just as lethal as if you took it deliberately. My question is this; where is the logic of correctly legislating against passive smoking and relying on the relatively ineffectual strategy of nudging instead of legislating to reduce passive salt consumption, which is probably doing far more expensive damage to patients, and therefore the NHS budget, than passive smoking ever did to lung cancer?

David Amess, MP
Well, as I’m the only politician here let me reply. I was on the health select committee when we introduced the law to ban smoking in public places. I was a bit of a cynic at first, and I never thought it would work, but it has worked brilliantly. I absolutely agree with Graham, what you were saying about people signing up to the Responsibility Deal is a little bit like the Leveson enquiry, self-regulation isn’t the most productive way to go. Our wonderful civil servant is going to say something.

Richard Cienciala, Department of Health
Good afternoon, may I just respond to that by saying that we’ve had quite a lot of talk about ineffectual measures. I would encourage you to look at the statistics, and to look at the international comparisons, which make it abundantly clear that this country is the world leader in salt reduction, that this country has succeeded in reducing salt consumption to 8.1g, still significantly above where we need to get to, but a big reduction. That has been achieved not through legislation, it’s been achieved through the hard grind of discussion and voluntary action by business, and that has really achieved results. No, it hasn’t got us there yet, which is why the government yesterday published its latest salt plan, which will see further action, further target setting to help carry on that momentum, as well as measures to take the case to the public, to persuade the public to make exactly the sort of points that Raymond has been making, whereby you don’t need to use salt to have decent food, there are other ways of doing it. So there is a plan, there is action going to be taken this year. We have also made it clear that if that doesn’t work we’ll look at other ways of making further progress. But we are looking to build on success, not start from a position of failure.

David Amess, MP
Very good news. I think Raymond would like to add something.

Raymond Blanc
Well, it is obvious that the government really has to take the lead and legislate effectively, which will create a level playing feel amongst all manufacturers. And as far as I’m concerned, as a chef, I will do my very best to pass on that message by every means possible, with all my colleagues in Great Britain, so they also embrace those values, because it makes sense. Thank you.

David Amess
Wonderful, next question!

Is it not also about educating children in schools from an early age? So from the moment  they are able to speak and choose foods, getting it into school curriculum as well, going back to home economics, enabling them to choose the right foods?.

Raymond Blanc
It is wonderful that at last Mr Gove has decided to support this initiative, whereby food education is actually now part of the school curriculum. Not at the level we would like to see, but it is happening. We are going to educate our kids and show them that food connects with everything; environment, health and agriculture. So I think it’s really exciting that this is happening.

David Amess
Just to thank each and every one of you for attending this function this afternoon. We are very grateful for the way Kat has organised the event. Very delighted we’ve got so many exhibitors here, but let us hope that there is no need next year for another gathering. Our wonderful civil servant has told us our record thus far, and let’s hope that by next year, we’re all singing from the same song sheet.

Please remember to contact your local Member of Parliament, it’s so important. There are 646 members of parliament, if every politician was serious about this issue, then there wouldn’t be a problem. Enjoy the rest of the reception.

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