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FSA: We have ‘turned the tide’ on UK salt consumption

By Elaine Watson, 01-Jul-2010

Related topics: Flavours and colours, Preservatives and acidulants, Market Trends

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has “turned the tide” on UK salt consumption and delivered one of the most effective diet-related campaigns in history despite its limited funds, its boss has claimed.

Speaking at a salt reduction forum in London to an audience of academics, government officials and World Health Organisation staff, FSA chief executive Tim Smith acknowledged that UK salt intakes were still well above its target of 6g/day after seven years of campaigning.

However, he insisted that substantial progress (a 10% reduction in average daily intakes from 9.5g/day to 8.6g/day) had been made given the complexity of the task and the FSA's modest budget.

“This is already preventing premature deaths and, probably more importantly, preventing many years lived in ill health. I see that as a success. In fact, given the relatively modest cost of the salt campaign compared with other public health campaigns, it is one of the most effective diet-related campaigns there has ever been.”

Take consumers with you

He also warned of the perils of moving too fast, reminding the audience of a time when he used to work for an M&S supplier that had slashed salt levels in its sandwiches. “We reformulated the entire range and launched it on an unsuspecting world. Well, we won lots of plaudits but sales fell off a cliff. We went too far too fast; not an auspicious start!”

Success was only possible by working with the food industry and not against it, he added: “One of the most important things we have learned is the value of partnerships.”

Steep technical mountain to climb

But the technical challenges associated with salt reduction were not to be underestimated, he stressed. “Salt has an important role in preventing microbial growth, toxins and spoilage. So we have worked with UK meat products manufacturers on practical guidance on salt reduction that doesn’t compromise food safety.

“Salt seems to stop dough becoming sticky and difficult to work in big plant bakeries. So we are funding research with bakers to understand how to overcome these technical problems.”

He also reminded the audience of the need to “think much more globally rather than nationally and work across borders”.