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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Food giants hit back in salt row
Person eating a burger
The government is considering a ban on 'junk' food ads
The food industry has hit out at government claims that it is not doing enough to cut salt levels.

Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said industry proposals did not go far enough, and called for a rethink.

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

There is concern that high salt content in products such as pizzas and burgers contributes to heart disease.

Food giants agreed to come up with an action plan to cut salt levels at a summit in February.

But Ms Johnson is concerned that the proposals would not cut levels sufficiently.

She has spelled out her concerns in a letter to 27 companies, including Heinz, Nestle, Northern Foods, United Biscuits, Waitrose, Sainsbury, Asda and Marks & Spencer.

In the letter, she said: "The plans are too often short on detail and specific actions.

Melanie Johnson
Melanie Johnson wants more action
"What is needed are real commitments across the board for key product categories such as pizza, breakfast cereals, sandwiches and ready-made meals to ensure that we reach the necessary reduction in salt intakes from processed foods.

"From the plans submitted, around 50% of the products, such as pizzas and ready meals, will continue to contain unacceptably high levels of salt."

Ms Johnson told the BBC that most people ate a lot of processed foods which were loaded with salt.

She said: "If it was cut down we would all be a lot of healthier, there would be fewer costs to the health service, and also, from the point of view of the food industry, their consumers would live longer."

Industry response

We are astounded at the misleading suggestions of lack of cooperation.
Food industry representatives
The food industry has rejected the claim that it is refusing to play ball.

In an open letter to the Health Secretary John Reid, they say: "We are astounded at the misleading suggestions of lack of cooperation with government and lack of progress on salt reduction in processed foods.

"This is simply not the case. Over the last two years our industries have worked closely and constructively with the Food Standards Agency and latterly with the Department of Health, both on a sector and individual company basis to produce both plans for and actual, substantial salt reductions.

"This work will continue, but is not helped by inept political spin which has nothing to do with real attempts to improve the nation's health."

The letter is signed by Kevin Hawkins, director general, British Retail Consortium, Bob Cotton, chief executive, British Hospitality Association, Sylvia Jay, director general, Food and Drink Federation, and Richard MacDonald, director general, National Farmers' Union.

The Food and Drink Federation said plans already submitted to ministers include:

  • A further 5% reduction in sliced bread, following a 10% reduction achieved in 2000 and the 12.5% reduction made in the late 1980s.
  • Further reductions to the salt content of all leading branded soups and meal sauces, following a 10% reduction in 2003.
  • Reductions in the biscuits and cakes sector.

Research has shown that reducing average salt intake to 6 grams a day would prevent 70,000 strokes and heart attacks a year.

The 2003 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found men eat on average 11g per day, and women 8.1g.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"The industry has already cut salt levels in bread... but the government wants more"



SEE ALSO:
Firms urged to cut salt in food
06 May 04  |  Health
Supermarkets cut salt content
26 Feb 04  |  Health
Less salt 'would save thousands'
12 Dec 03  |  Health


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