FSA in Scotland
Last updated on 12 October 2005
FSA and Department of Health joint statement on industry salt reduction progress: October 2005
Further positive progress has been made by industry on salt reduction.
Summary of progress
Since February 2004:
- Officials have met or had contact with around 71 key food industry organisations across all sectors on salt reduction.
- 54 written commitments to salt reduction work have been received from a range of organisations across all sectors of the food industry and are published on the FSA and Department of Health (DH) websites.
- The FSA has launched a consultation on targets for key product categories and will be publishing agreed targets by the end of the year with a self-reporting framework to report progress.
A key feature of the initial plans submitted were the industry claims to have made significant salt reductions to date. Some of these that can be verified include:
- a 16% reduction in branded breakfast cereal products between 1998 and 2002
- a 25% reduction in salt levels in potato crisps in the last 10 years (1994-2004)
- Heinz making reductions of between 11% and 18% across its product range in 2003
Further commitments include:
- Marks & Spencer's five year plan sets the benchmark for the retailers. Other major retailers, such as Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose have submitted plans and are reviewing progress. Morrisons has yet to submit a plan but met with FSA officials recently and has indicated that work is underway.
- The meat trade bodies have established upper maximum levels for eight product categories and have agreed to also establish targets for bacon and ham and review progress. Northern Foods has committed to reductions of between 30 and 40% across a range of meat products.
- The Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers (which represents all major breakfast cereal producers) has agreed to a further 10% reduction across all cereal products in 2005. On top of this, Kellogg's has announced a 20% reduction in some brands, including Corn flakes and Frosties.
- The Federation of Bakers has announced that it has achieved a 5% reduction in 2004 and is considering establishing an upper maximum level this year to be achieved gradually over the next five years.
- The Biscuit Chocolate Cake and Confectionery Association has committed to a 15% reduction in products where feasible.
- Heinz has substantially reduced the salt content of various products, including baked beans, which are now in line with the FSA salt model target average values.
- Unilever has committed to all Birds Eye ready meals containing under 2g of salt per portion. Both organisations are involved in Project Neptune, an initiative organised by the Food and Drink Federation that aims to reduce the salt content of both soups and sauces by 30% overall over three years from 2003, in approximately equal steps of 10% each year (2003, 2004, 2005).
- The catering sector is more diverse and the FSA is currently further developing its strategy for working with this sector. However, to date the four main contract caterers (Aramark, Avenance, Compass and Sodexho) have developed salt reduction programmes; McDonalds has made significant reductions; and we are holding discussions with many other organisations, including Whitbread, Mitchells & Butlers, and Yum! Restaurants (includes KFC), which have put programmes in place across their chains.
- Companies that provide foods to caterers are also important, and as such 3663 has committed to reducing the salt content of its own-brand products by 50% over the next 18 months to two years.
Salt reduction remains a priority for Government as outlined in the White Paper on Public Health and the Food and Health Action Plan for England, and the nutrition action plans for Scotland and Wales and that under preparation in Northern Ireland. The Food Standards Agency's Strategic Plan for 2005-2010 confirms the commitment to work with industry to reduce the average salt intake of the population to 6g per person per day by 2010.
The next stage of the programme of work with industry will include the following:
- Agreeing targets for key product categories and publishing with a self-reporting framework by December 2005
- Obtaining further long-term plans in line with these targets; and securing clear data from all relevant organisations to ensure that salt reduction claims can be verified
- Focusing on securing further salt reductions in both the cereal and meat product categories (these make the biggest contributions to adult salt intakes in the UK)
- Developing a clear programme of work for the catering sector, including specific guidelines for salt reduction, in consultation with key stakeholders
In the meantime, the programme of meetings will continue to involve all sectors of the food industry, and is likely to have two key purposes:
- to meet with those key players who we have not already met with and who have not submitted plans
- to meet with those who manufacture and/or are responsible for those foods that are major contributors to salt intake (cereals and cereal products, meat products, ready meals, pizzas, sandwiches, soups, pies)
Additional meetings will also be set up with other organisations to follow up commitments once these have been received.
Salt targets for key product categories
The Agency has been working to set targets for key product categories and develop a 5-year framework for self-reporting by industry organisations, in consultation with key stakeholders. The intention is to set targets at levels that will make a difference to intakes but will also be achievable by the food industry.
A stakeholder group, made up of industry and consumer representatives as well as officials, and discussions with sector-specific interest groups helped develop draft targets for wider consultation. The three-month public consultation was launched in August and closes on 24 October 2005. The comments submitted will be taken into account and targets and categories amended as appropriate. The final targets will be published later in the year.
FSA consumer awareness campaign
In September 2004, the Agency launched a high-profile consumer-awareness campaign on salt. The main aim was to raise awareness of salt as a public health issue, as well as highlighting what consumers could do to help lower their intakes. The key message behind the first phase was 'too much salt is bad for your heart'. A range of broadcast and print media were used, some of which featured Sid – a friendly and health-conscious slug – providing a sympathetic and humorous character that was effective in getting the key message across.
The second phase of the campaign was launched on the 10 October 2005. The new phase will encourage consumers to check food labels and aim to eat no more than 6g a day. A new set of characters are being used this time – a number of talking ready meals arguing about who should be chosen, based on who has the lowest salt content. The FSA is working with a number of stakeholders – both non-government organisations and industry organisations – to launch a range of joint initiatives to spread the messages further.
The FSA and DH will monitor changes in salt levels both in terms of intake and levels in products. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey and the Health Survey for England will be used to assess changes in intake via urinary analysis, with the first results due to be available mid 2006. Work is underway to establish additional monitoring mechanisms in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In order to track the progress of reformulation work, the Agency has commissioned the setting up of a databank of processed food products. The databank will consist of an extensive range of processed food products, including branded and supermarket own-label products, listing their nutrient content. As well as salt, this will also cover fat and sugar to inform future work in these areas. Data will be collected from product labels. It is envisaged that data collection will be repeated annually for the next two years, with the first data collection now having been completed. It is anticipated that the first year's results will be published by the end of 2005.
A range of 'mini surveys' will continue to be published over the next few years to provide data on the levels of salt and a limited range of other nutrients in processed foods. In addition, the Agency's annual Consumer Attitudes Survey monitors the proportion of respondents who are concerned about salt and those who have taken action to change their salt intake.
SACN advice and targets
Following the publication of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on Salt and Health in May 2003, the government set a target to reduce the salt consumption of the population from 9.5g to an average of 6g a day by 2010.
February 2004 plans
The first major step in the process of working with industry was the submission of initial salt reduction plans in February 2004, in response to an initial call for action by Melanie Johnson (then Parliamentary Under Secretary for Public Health). A number of plans were received from a mix of manufacturers, retailers and trade associations, procurement bodies, voluntary organisations and academic institutions. These plans indicated a high awareness of salt as an issue within these groups and that reduction programmes were already taking place on a broad front with action at different stages between different sectors.
Since that time the FSA, together with DH, have undertaken a series of follow-up activities with key organisations and has now met, or had contact with around 70 key food organisations. Whilst both large and small businesses can contribute to this work, larger companies are more equipped to make the required reductions and their actions are likely to benefit a larger number of consumers. The meetings and site visits, which form part of these activities, have helped to establish effective one-to-one working relationships and to enable the FSA to obtain a better understanding of the structure and function of different sectors of the food chain. These meetings also enable industry organisations to update the FSA on progress and both parties to continue to discuss what further action is needed and possible. As a result of these activities, the FSA has now received more than 50 written commitments across all sectors of the industry – retailers, manufacturers, caterers and trade associations – details of which have been published on both the FSA and DH websites.
Work with health professionals
The Department of Health commissioned the Faculty of Public Health, in association with the National Heart Forum, to produce a hypertension toolkit for use by health professionals. This was launched at the end of May 2005 and highlights the impact of salt in the diet on hypertension and provides health professionals with practical tips and advice they can pass on to patients.