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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 09:00 GMT
Salt reduction targets 'too soft'
Salt cellar
High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure
Campaigners say revised targets set by a government watchdog for cutting salt in food do not go far enough.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published targets to cut salt in 85 types of food product by 2010.

However, campaigners say the proposals have been watered down following pressure from the food industry.

They argue that failure to reduce salt in the diet by sufficient levels could endanger the lives of thousands of people a year in the UK.

The power of the food industry is once again in evidence and the purely commercial interests of food companies have been allowed to prevail
Professor Graham MacGregor

It is estimated that at least 26 million people in the UK eat more than the recommended 6g of salt per day. The average daily consumption is closer to 10g.

Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, which can triple the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Experts estimate that if average consumption was cut to 6g a day, it would prevent 70,000 heart attacks and strokes a year.

Processed foods are thought to account for about 75% of the average person's salt intake.

The new FSA targets, which are not compulsory, include:

  • Crisps should have no more than 1.5g of salt per 100g - a reduction of about 10% on current levels

  • Bacon: 3.5g of salt per 100g

  • Standard salted butter: 1.7g of salt per 100g

  • Breakfast cereals: 0.8g per 100g

  • Baked beans: 0.8g per 100g

  • Pre-packed bread and rolls: 1.1g per 100g

The guidelines follow a consultation on an original set of planned targets which was launched in August last year.

'Tragedy for UK'

Salt campaign group Cash (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) accused the FSA of bowing to industry pressure by increasing its target salt levels in some food categories.

Professor Graham MacGregor, its chairman, said some snacks aimed at children would remain saltier than sea water even if the FSA targets were met.

He said: "The power of the food industry is once again in evidence, and the purely commercial interests of food companies have been allowed to prevail.

"There are no taste, technical or safety reasons why salt cannot be reduced far further than these new targets."

Professor MacGregor said the new guidelines were likely to lead to an average daily salt intake of 8g, not the 6g desired.

"As a result, 30,000 more strokes and heart attacks will occur unnecessarily, 15,000 of which will be fatal. That is a tragedy for the UK."

Paul Lincoln, of the National Heart Forum, said the food industry had not done enough to cut salt levels.

He said: "The problem is that these targets are voluntary. Some companies have demonstrated that it is possible to make significant and rapid reductions.

"However, without the threat of any sanctions or penalties, some sectors are clearly unwilling to press ahead with healthy reformulations."

'Challenging' targets

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents UK manufacturers, said the FSA's targets appeared "more realistic" than the 2005 proposals - but were still challenging.

Deputy director general Martin Paterson said salt levels had already been substantially lowered in many products.

"At first glance, the targets appear more realistic than the 2005 proposals, but we will need to study the detail to ensure the targets are practical, realistic and take into account the microbiological safety of food."

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "Our salt reduction targets are challenging, but many food manufacturers and retailers have responded to this challenge.

"High levels of salt in our diets can contribute to major diseases and illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

"Government and industry action is making a difference, because people are more aware than ever of the need to reduce the amount of salt they eat."

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