Pushed by a UK minister, food makers handed in plans at the weekend to slash the salt content in processed foods but the industry has criticised the government move, suspecting political spin,reports Lindsey Partos.
Controversy linked to the most common food ingredient in the world sparked off in June this year when health minister Melanie Johnson rejected plans submitted by the industry to reduce salt levels, accusing food manufacturer's of not going 'nearly far enough.'
In a letter Johnson surprised over twenty food players - among them Kerry Foods, Heinz, Sainsbury, and McDonalds - warning them they had until 18 September to come back with a better plan to beat the 'unacceptably high levels of salt'.
"We are astonished," a spokesperson from the UK Food and Drink Federation told FoodNavigator.com at the time.
Speaking this week to FoodNavigator.com, the FDF said that it had written to Johnson this month, updating her on the achievements made with regards to its salt reduction plans, actually submitted in February this year.
"We still haven't had any feedback from her on this framework," said a spokesperson for the industry body. Without feedback the food industry can not discuss and heed the concerns of the government.
Burgeoning Irish group Kerry Foods said to FoodNavigator.com that it had replied to Johnson's request, submitting an outline of ongoing programmes - although it has not announced specific plans in the past - currently in place to reduce the salt in prepared foods in line, with targets set by the Food Standards Agency.
"We are also in discussions with consumer groups, particularly with regards to salt phase reduction," added the €2.7 billion ingredients and food group.
Condemned for contributing to the worsening health problems in the population, consumer groups have come down hard on the food manufacturers pushing them to reduce the salt used in food recipes.
Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, itself a cause or contributing factor in the rising incidence of heart disease.
Recent figures from the UK's food agency claim that every day at least 26 million people eat more than the recommended daily limit of 6g of salt. Men are eating the most with a daily average of 11.0g of salt while women consume an average of 8.1g a day.
Backed by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), the UK food industry has committed itself to meeting a target of a 10 per cent reduction in sodium levels in ambient soups and sauces by the end of 2003. Salt levels in breakfast cereals have been cut by 16 per cent since 1998, claims the FDF.
"The food industry is about two-thirds of the way to reaching our target of a 1g reduction in processed foods by the end of 2005. However, to reach the ambitious target of 6g per day by 2010 will require further action by both consumers and industry if we are to reduce the human and health costs of eating too much salt," said FSA chair Sir John Krebs, at the launch in September of a new campaign to cut salt levels in the diet.