Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Supermarkets hear government salt plea
Excessive salt causes strokes and heart attacks.
Food retailers have been discussing ways to decrease the amount of harmful salt in processed food at a conference on Tuesday.
But she needs the support of major supermarket chains.
Asda has already announced plans to reduce the amount of salt in some of its own brands by 15%, and the Co-op will follow suit today by launching a new "low-salt" range of products.
The sodium it contains is known to increase blood pressure, although scientists do not know exactly why.
Professor Graham MacGregor, a specialist in high blood pressure who is convenor of pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Hypertension, said that any moves by the Co-op would be significant, particularly as they tended to serve less affluent communities, in which poorer diet and cardiovascular problems were both more common.
Thousands could be saved
He said: "If we could reduce the amount of salt in our diets by 30%, it would cut out 40,000 strokes a year, and give major health benefits.
One of the arguments put forward by food manufacturers is that reduced-salt food will not taste as good.
There are also commercial concerns a less salty diet will reduce the demand for drinks.
The Co-op "LoSalt" range, which is being extended to 500 own-brand products, substitutes other minerals for the sodium.
John Mathis, a Co-op spokesman, said: "Excessive salt intake has been linked to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and strokes and the government is looking for the industry to act in reducing salt levels in food.
"As a responsible retailer, we're working hard to get the message across to the consumer."
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) called for a "clear commitment" from food retailers and food manufacturers to reduce the level of salt contained in processed food.