Salt reduction 'approaching limits'

Consumers are unlikely to see further significant salt reductions in the food they buy as manufacturers await scientific advances, trade bodies have claimed.

A study published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said potential methods to reduce more salt existed but needed more development or were yet to be tested in food.

The BRC said retailers and manufacturers risked producing food which had less salt but went off too quickly or lacked flavour, which it claimed could turn consumers away to food with higher amounts of salt.

The BRC and FDF said members remained committed to reducing salt but that this was likely to mean small changes to individual products rather than dramatic reductions across entire ranges "given the limited solutions identified in the report".

They said the focus should now shift to encouraging companies not engaged in salt reduction to get involved, spreading successful approaches by big name retailers and brands to smaller businesses and educating consumers.

BRC deputy food director Andrea Martinez-Inchausti said: "Producing foods with even less salt but which go off too quickly or lack flavour could simply result in consumers switching to higher salt products. That's no solution. There's no arguing with the science though. Development of new techniques is going to take time and retailers will have to wait for those advances along with everybody else."

FDF food safety and science director Barbara Gallani said: "This report illustrates the complexity of salt reduction and demonstrates the need for all parties to work together if continued progress is to be made to drive down salt consumption."

Dr Paul Berryman, chief executive at Leatherhead Food Research, which conducted the study, said: "Salt reduction is very complex. Each product category presents different challenges because salt affects taste, texture, shelf life and food safety. Our research identified some exciting new techniques using mineral salts, potassium replacers, taste enhancers and clever manipulation of salt crystal size and position. These will assist food companies new to salt reduction."

But Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) said the BRC and FDF were "completely wrong" to claim that salt reduction was reaching its limit. Cash chairman Professor Graham MacGregor, of the Wolfson Institute, said: "We must not be put off by a dinosaur-like approach from the BRC and FDF.

"The UK is fortunate to have some of the leading food companies in the world and in collaboration with them we will reduce salt intake to a maximum of 6g per day. This will prevent 36,000 strokes and heart attacks every year, 18,000 of which would have been fatal, while also saving the NHS billions of pounds a year."