Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), a leading UK health group which campaigns for reduced levels of salt in processed foods has welcomed the targets announced in the Public Health Responsibility Deal for food, published by health secretary Andrew Lansley this morning.
The Deal puts salt reduction work into the hands of the food industry, where in CASH's words, “forward thinking companies” have pledged to reduce salt in their foods by 15% over the next two years. CASH estimates this will save 6,000 lives a year.
Companies that have signed the pledge have committed to meeting the 2012 salt targets previously set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) before its responsibilities for nutrition and heath were transferred to the Department of Health.
Although this should result in salt intakes coming down by 1g (from the current average daily intake of 8.6g) to 7.6g in 2012, this is still some way from the maximum 6g salt target, called for by medical experts.
Disappointed targets not more challenging
Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and chairman of CASH said: “Whilst it is disappointing not to have more challenging salt reduction targets, when salt reduction is the simplest and most effective public health campaign we have in the UK, this 1g per day reduction will contribute to reducing the massive burden of blood pressure and the resulting cardiovascular disease in the UK.”
CASH has agreed to support the pledge, and with Salt Awareness Week next week (March 21–23), MacGregor added, “We urge all food companies to sign the pledge – they put the salt in our food and now it is their responsibility to take it out.”
But many experts and lobby groups that have voiced concerns about such voluntary approaches involving the food industry argue that the deal will fail to deliver the required public health improvements.
Proposals will undermine health?
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme last month, Simon Capewell, Professor in the Department of Health Inequalities and the Social Determinants of Health at the University of Liverpool, who was an adviser to the Conservative Party before it came into government, expressed “outrage” at the proposals.
Capewell warned: “The policies [Lansley] is advocating will undermine health”. He added: “The processed food industry is the problem, not the solution.”
However, working in partnership with members of the voluntary sector, business, industry and the retail sector, Lansley hopes the food deal will deliver faster and better results than a regulatory route. But he has not ruled out regulation if voluntary measures fail to work. “If we don’t make more progress then we will take regulatory options,” he told the Food Programme.
Since September 2010, five groups working on food, alcohol, behavioural change, physical activity and health at work have developed a series of pledges for action.
Pledges for action
Key collective pledges agreed include: Calories on menus from September this year; Reducing salt in food so people eat 1g less per day by the end of 2012; Removal of artificial trans-fats by the end of this year; Achieving clear unit labelling on more than 80% of alcohol by 2013; Increasing physical activity through the workplace; and Improving workplace health.
Supermarkets including ASDA, the Co-operative, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose, and manufacturers such as Mars and Unilever, are among more than 170 organisations that have signed up to a broad range of measures designed to improve public health.
Launching the deals, Lansley said: "Public health is everyone’s responsibility and there is a role for all of us, working in partnership, to tackle these challenges.
“We know that regulation is costly, can take years and is often only determined at an EU-wide level anyway. That’s why we have to introduce new ways of achieving better results.” He described the deals as a “radical partnership approach”.
Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director general Melanie Leech said: "The FDF is pleased to be a founding signatory of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. We bring our track record of achievement in key areas such as the reformulation of products, the provision of clear consumer information and our drive to support our own workforce to make healthier choices.”