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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Salt: Is the food industry doing enough?
Cheeseburgers and chips, yesterday
The food industry has reacted angrily to government claims that it is not doing enough to cut salt levels.

Public health minister, Melanie Johnson, said she was unhappy with the industry's progress, and called for a rethink of current proposals.

However, industry representatives say they have taken a constructive approach and accused Ms Johnson of "inept political spin".

Last month, the Consumer's Association warned that the levels of fat and salt in pre-packaged food can vary greatly, and suggested that manufacturers could reduce levels without affecting taste.

Is enough being done to cut the salt content of pre-packaged food? Is the government right to be critical?

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far.

No-one is forced to eat fast food
J.G., Scotland, UK
Surely it is your own responsibility what you put in your mouth. Put the information on the package and let people choose. It seems that everything that happens is always someone else's fault these days. Isn't it about time people started taking some personal responsibility for their own health, and stop trying to use the easy way out of blaming others. No-one is forced to eat fast food.
J.G., Scotland, UK

Salt absorbs water, bulking up the food, it blurs the taste so that more expensive flavourings don't have to be used in quantity, and it acts as a preservative. Basically it is a means to engineer food for maximum profit, quality has nothing to do with it. Take away salt and the supermarkets are forced into improving the overall quality of processed food, something that isn't in their shareholders' best interests!
Simon Mallett, Maidstone

So many people here have this misconception that people who have ready meals are somewhat lower class, arrogant or plain lazy. Granted someone who lives solely off these could well be classed as such. But this is the 21st century; you obviously have too much time on your hands. For me, if I get time out from work to buy, prepare, cook a fresh meal, that's great but all too often, it's just simply not possible!! So to cater for the needs of many people such as myself, convenience foods such as these should have reduced salt etc. To tag people who are busy yet food conscious, is foolish.
John Mayock, Hampshire, UK

Salt is not limited to only the new pre-packaged or fast food
Collis, W. Virginia, USA
I just wish to remind everyone here that in the ages before the arrival of refrigeration, your ancestors preserved food for the winter by salting it. The legacy of this is manifested in such dishes as pickled herring, pickled cucumbers, pickled cabbage - sauerkraut as it is commonly known, pickled meats, you get the picture. Salt is not limited to only the new pre-packaged or fast food.
Collis, W. Virginia, USA

I work in a fast food restaurant - the chicken nuggets have a new recipe with reduced salt, and if anyone wants their chips without salt, we are happy to make a separate batch for them.
Matt, Arbroath, Scotland

Surely everyone must now be aware that processed foods contain too much salt. People who care about their health can cook fresh food and those who don't can eat junk if they wish. It's a question of personal choice and I do not feel it is the responsibility of the state to do any more than educate.
Richard, Chesham, UK

A bag of crisps costs the same as an apple
Nige, England
This isn't just about being able to afford things. A bag of crisps costs the same as an apple, yet the people whose kids are constantly stuffing their faces with salty crisps complain about the cost of fruit. If consumers stopped buying the heavily salted foods the manufacturers would soon take notice. Or you could be reckless and cook for yourself. A lot of people complain about not having time but somehow find the time to go to the pub and watch TV all evening.
Nige, England

I think some people here need to realise that it can genuinely be difficult to find the time to cook decent meals every day. I love cooking and experimenting with food - but I'm often busy weekday evenings and have to grab what I can, or don't get home until 8pm and just don't have the time or energy to start cooking a proper meal. Also, many delicious non-junk foods are not exactly low in salt -Parma ham anyone?
Alice, Brighton

The government is not critical enough. The health of the whole nation is at stake both for now and the future.
Raymond Rudaizky, London, U.K.

Why don't the Government tax foods with a high salt or fat content more heavily. After all the tax system is used to try and regulate the amount of tobacco and alcohol sold.
Andy, York, UK

The fact is that it's never been necessary to subsist entirely on pre-packaged food. It's not even the case that it takes hours slaving over a hot stove to create a healthy, balanced(and tasty) meal. It's just that it frees up more time for TV watching, which is as conducive to bad health as the high salt levels in processed food.
Alasdair Ide, Glasgow, Scotland

Why not adopt the two tier system in food which now largely applies to the fat content of shop bought products
Max, UK
Why not adopt the two tier system in food which now largely applies to the fat content of shop bought products. That is a full fat product and a "lite" product - with clear labelling so you can make your own choice. Would it really be so hard to do the same with salt content? And then let the individual consumer make up his/her own mind. Simple!
Max, UK

What's wrong with a bit of salt? Its one of the few pleasures this government has not taxed.
pat, UK

When we're all not working all the hours god sends we might have time and energy for cooking or at least checking what we eat. The industry should give some thought to people's dependence on their convenience food and attempt to make it healthy and fat people should do some exercise.
Graham, UK

It should state that its consumption is likely to result in your early death
Paul Bristow, Basingstoke, England
How about adding the kind of in your face threats that are added to tobacco products? If a food item contains more than, for example 10% of the RDA of salt, it should state that its consumption is likely to result in your early death. That ought to make manufacturers and buyers think!
Paul Bristow, Basingstoke, England

I've learnt to cook quick meals using fresh ingredients. I don't add salt to anything meals.
Louise, Sydney, Australia

I just realised that 2 slices of my bread has 33% of my daily salt allowance. Do I know how to cook, but don't have time to make my own bread as well. We're slowly being poisoned by food companies.
Paul , London

People talk a lot about people taking responsibility, which I agree with to an extent. However, the industry makes billions from us, the consumers. As they are profiting so much I think they should stop whining about a 'nanny state' and start doing something to make food that is healthy, not that they say is healthy. Respecting those responsible for putting food on their tables!
Matt, Chelmsford, UK

It is a sad reflection that a large section of this country's society does not consider cooking or eating a meal worthy of their time
Anon, UK
It is a sad reflection that a large section of this country's society does not consider cooking or eating a meal worthy of their time. Cooking is fun and rewarding, as is eating what you have just created (and having a good drink with it). I have to admit that I actually eat a few prepared meals and pizzas (probably containing 2-3grams of salt), but that is because I choose to, rather than because I have no time. There is more choice in life, these days, than ever before in history. Get over it and be responsible for yourselves.
Anon, UK

The food industry, the government, and consumers all must take their share of responsibility for high salt levels in food. The government because it removed food from the national curriculum, the food companies because they have been duplicitous and reckless with salt levels in food, and the consumer for failing to ask questions and check for themselves. It is not just salt but also sugar and fat that are problems.
David Carlisle, Bishop's Stortford

Anyone know why the French are so thin? They don't eat pre-packaged food. They eat real, fresh food. They are very particular about quality in their food and are known for the best cuisine in the world. They don't exclude fat, salt or sugar from their diets, they simply eat them in their natural sources.
Tess, London, UK

It's OK for people to say read the labels, but I do just that and it's almost impossible to find a low salt alternative. You spend hours just browsing the shelves when this should be a simple choice. Instant soups are a classic example. My view is simple. It's because salt is cheap. It is simply a lot cheaper for a manufacturer to add salt as a flavouring than to actually make the thing taste good in the first place. So to say that people prefer salty foods is rubbish, it's a matter of production economics. However making people pay for a higher quality product is another matter.
Matt, London

The food industry will never voluntarily take the sugar, salt and fat out of our food. Worryingly, we have a government that appears incapable of standing up to the food lobby. For those of us who can afford it, we have fresh vegetables and fruit, and access to gyms, purchase of bikes and other forms of exercise. But what of the poor? Who will stand up for, and represent them?
Mike Abbott, Kew, Surrey

It is surely up to the consumer of food to choose healthy food. Nobody forces anyone to eat junk - I live on my own and have a pretty busy life, but still manage to cook so I cannot see why most people can't do this. It doesn't take long to prepare healthy food. And for S Burns, UK - if that's how you feel, why don't you start selling healthy fast food instead of expecting the government to regulate everything for you?
Euan Gray, Edinburgh, UK

It has been shown over the years that voluntary codes of practice do not work
Barry P, Havant England
The food industry makes it seem difficult to cut the amount of salt in food. Apart from the profit motive it is simple to change a recipe, reset a machine or similar. It has been shown over the years that voluntary codes of practice do not work, and are only put forwards by industries to allow many more years of profit taking. Since salt, alcohol, sugar and tobacco are implicated in causing ill health the Government has a duty to put controls on the producers.
Barry P, Havant England

I have followed a low salt diet for many years now. Many people do not realise (as many earlier comments show) that it isn't just a case of avoiding 'fast food'. There are very high levels of salt in every day products (bread and some breakfast cereals to name but a few). Everyone realises crisps and ready meals are over salted but most are not aware of the hidden salt in every day staples. Over a day it can all mount up to a hefty dose of sodium without the consumer realising. Packaging needs to be clearer, with salt levels listed by law (to work out salt level the sodium level has to be doubled, most people do not know this). Ideally there should be a legal limit to content levels.
Elaine, UK

I think the government is right to raise this issue and should do more if the industry doesn't take more action itself. Like the other people here I'm educated enough to realise the problems of fast food. Its alright to talk about personal responsibility but I have spoken to many people who eat a lot of junk food and even if they're not ignorant they don't care.
David, Birmingham, UK

If we choose to continue eating their salty rubbish that's our choice
Claire, UK
The only responsibility the food industry has is to make us aware of how much salt is in their products. Beyond that it is up to us. If we choose to continue eating their salty rubbish that's our choice.
Claire, UK

The food industry is right all this is the government indulging in political grandstanding. So-called junk food is the latest bandwagon they have jumped on. As is usual in this day and aged the obvious solution of people actually taking responsibility for their own loaves and actions is conveniently omitted. All food is potentially junk food and bad for you. There is no such thing as bad food only bad diet.
John, UK

The UK food industry needs to be forced to do anything. We already know that they refuse to remove ingredients from kids food which are banned in other countries as being dangerous. They pump chicken with water and cow protein. Salt is the tip of the iceberg and the government will not do a thing about it, so as not to upset their old university chums who run these companies
Vish, UK

To all you smug folk who say "why don't people just learn how to cook": plenty of us can but have neither the time nor inclination. I can cook if I have to, but I work long hours and want to do something pleasant and relaxing at home. Besides, it seems a bit of a waste of all that university education. Fast food could be a boon for people with better things to do than cook, if it were produced with health in mind, and there's no reason it can't be.
S Burns, UK

Those, who think their university education is wasted if they spend time cooking, obviously have only got degrees but no sense of being educated enough to make informed, healthy choices, such as about what they will put inside their body which feeds their mind. Mens sans in corpore sanum..
Anon, UK

People generally don't know how much salt is too much
Susie, Nottingham, UK
I think the real problem with salt is that, unlike with calories and fat, people generally don't know how much salt is too much. This means that people can't make the choice to avoid foods with too much salt and the industry is still able to sell them to us. Maybe the labelling of salt content should be made into a percentage of our daily recommended allowance so we can see at a glance which foods not to buy, then the industry will have to do something about it since they won't be selling much of their products anymore. Without a financial incentive like this they probably won't change anything.
Susie, Nottingham, UK

Before rushing in here with legislation has anyone asked how much salt the average person voluntarily puts on their food? To put all this in context just visit you local fish and chips shop!
Bill, UK

If a producer loads its products with salt - and it is clearly labelled - then I have no problem with it. The stupidity of lazy people who choose to eat ready made meals drenched in the stuff ends up in results which are of their own making. Freedom to produce, freedom to buy, let the marketplace decide, let the consumers choose, and government should get back to focusing on what it's there for.
Nat, London, UK

I do use minimal amount of salt when cooking at home, so consequently, I can notice immediately when an extra dosage is used in ready meals. I should admit that most of the ready meals, pasties, etc make me so thirsty, that I have to keep drink next me at least for couple of hours afterwards. People are used to high salt intake, their organisms are already adapted to salty taste in foods. And as I were told by my grandmother, if you add an extra pinch of salt to meat which is a bit off, you can alter the taste and it will appear edible. That's why I am always a bit suspicious of too salty meats in retailing outlets.
Inga, England

If people didn't eat so much processed food and ate proper meals cooked from fresh ingredients then excessive salt, sugar, fat or additives wouldn't be an issue. People have to take responsibility for themselves. Food companies are only interested in profits, not your health.
Sam, Sheffield UK

The food industry wants to make maximum profit for minimum outlay like any other industry so they're not going to care about salt levels. The only way to control your salt intake is to cook without it (yes cook, not press the microwave button) and then when you get plain food at the end, you add the amount of salt you want.
Ken, England

People should take responsibility for their eating habits too
Anna Hornsey, London, UK

Yes, the government should be critical of the fast food industry, who may be using salt as a cheap ingredient. However, people should take responsibility for their eating habits too - you don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that it's much healthier and cheaper to prepare your own meals than buy processed ready meals.
Anna Hornsey, London, UK

I think this is a very serious issue given the sheer quantity of pre-packaged food and fast food outlets now available. When I cook our meals at home- and that is most days - I add no salt at all and fresh vegetables are steamed. Salt is available to be added by the individual at the table, but never is. I strongly feel that salt levels in both fast food and pre-packed food industries should be strictly controlled as should fat content levels.
Chris Green, Hagley, Worcs. England.

Why doesn't the consumer just stop buying this rubbish and learn how to cook
Ian, UK
I don't think it is just salt. Sugar, fats and flavourings are all added to pre packaged foods. Why doesn't the consumer just stop buying this rubbish and learn how to cook.
Ian, UK

Whilst no-one expects a fast food hamburger to be remotely healthy, when 52,000 lives per year could be saved by reducing salt intake, and processed foods account for 80% of average intake, it's time to do something.
Craig Haffey, Oxford, UK

Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) - read the labels. If you insist on eating pre-packaged meals all the time then what can you expect.
Doug Reid, London, UK

With its massive advertising machinery, the food industry does have a responsibility to provide healthy food. Too many people do not know the basics of what makes a healthy diet. And at the same time, cooking and health-living should be taught in schools.
Andrew, Milton Keynes, UK

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