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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Firms urged to cut salt in food
Person eating a burger
The government is considering a ban on 'junk' food ads
The food industry has been criticised by the government for not doing enough to cut salt levels in its products.

The Department of Health called for action last year, warning it may "name and shame" the worst offenders.

Speaking at a diet and exercise summit in London on Thursday, health minister Melanie Johnson said she was "disappointed" with the progress made.

Ministers also launched two consultation papers on improving food and fitness at the summit.

There are a number of measures ... that need to be taken forward immediately
Sue Davies, Consumers' Association
The papers cover areas such as improving diet and exercise in schools, encouraging employers to help their workers get fit and how manufacturers can reduce fat, sugar and salt in food.

The consultation is being held over the next few months to inform the forthcoming public health White Paper, due to be published in the summer.

Melanie Johnson said: "Nutrition and health is one aspect of people's lives where simple changes can make a big difference to the risk of chronic conditions such as type II diabetes.

"But this issue is not just for government - lasting improvements are only achievable if others, including the food industry, consumer groups, health experts and the media work together over the coming years to tackle the issues."

She said the individuals also had to take responsibility for the food they ate and that they gave to their families.

Labelling call

Miss Johnson also called on the food industry to do more to reduce salt, sugar and fat in products.

She added: "We have got progress. They are producing further guidance on reducing salt.

"But we haven't got a clear sense of what they hope to achieve and by when,"

Around 80% of salt intake is said to come from processed foods.

The Food Standards Agency recommends adults and children over the age of 11 consume no more than six grams of salt a day but the current average is nearer 10 grams.

High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of stroke or heart disease.

In February, supermarkets did agree to cut salt levels in own-brand products.

The European Parliament is currently considering whether there should be changes to food labelling, such as putting clearer health messages on products.

The UK government is also considering banning "junk" food advertising during children's television programmes.

Martin Paterson of the Food and Drink Federation said the food industry was not "the villain".

"It's up to us to work with the government and to provide a wide choice to consumers."

'Scapegoat'

But critics said it was time the government acted to improve eating and exercise habits.

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "The approach to tackling the obesity crisis is another review, another report and another talking shop but this is always followed by very little action.

"The government is taking its five-a-day message too seriously. It almost seems like we're getting five announcements a day on various summits on how to tackle obesity."

Shadow health secretary Tim Yeo said: "Everyone knows that we need a central coherent strategy to link together all the different government department initiatives as well as those from outside politics who have an impact on this problem."

Sue Davies, principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, said: "The White Paper will be a welcome addition to the debate. However, increasingly it has become a scapegoat for inaction.

"There are a number of measures such as a children's watershed for food advertising, clearer labelling and enforced reductions in sugar and fat in foods that need to be taken forward immediately."

Deirdre Hutton, chairwoman of the National Consumer Council, added: "I had high hopes that by now a plan would be in place and that action to expand the demand for fresh, wholesome food and boost health would be well under way.

"But progress has been painfully slow.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Vicki Young
"Ministers say it's time manufacturers changed the way processed meals are made"



SEE ALSO:
Supermarkets cut salt content
26 Feb 04  |  Health
Less salt 'would save thousands'
12 Dec 03  |  Health
EU chews over tough label rules
05 Apr 04  |  Business


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