Salt reduction targets
Monday 18 May 2009
In May 2009 the Agency published revised salt reduction targets for 2012, for 80 categories of foods. These are more challenging than the previous targets for 2010.
In March 2006 the FSA published the original voluntary salt reduction targets for 85 categories of food, as guidance to the food industry. The Agency committed to review the targets in 2008, to formally assess progress to date and to establish what further reductions were necessary to maintain progress towards the 6g daily intake target.
An initial meeting on the review was held in December 2007. This provided an opportunity for the Agency to brief stakeholders on how it intended to carry out the review, and gave stakeholders a chance to ask questions or air any concerns.
A series of sector-specific meetings covering the salt targets categories was held in January and February 2008, at which industry was asked to report on progress towards achieving the targets, any significant challenges experienced and what further levels of salt reduction might be achieved. The outcomes of the meetings were used to help the Agency develop proposals for revised voluntary salt reduction targets. In deciding upon the proposals the Agency also took into account levels of salt in food, expert advice on technical and safety issues, ongoing research and data on current intakes.
A public consultation on proposals to revise the targets for a limited number of food categories for 2010, and new targets for most foods for 2012, was published in July 2008. The number of categories was reduced from 85 to 80 when some were redefined or joined together – in discussions with industry it became clear that separate categories were not necessary for some foods. In addition, proposals were also put forward for a regular review of progress and the targets on a biennial basis, with the next review to take place in 2011. Sixty detailed responses were received from a range of organisations including manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, catering suppliers, health and consumer organisations and local authorities. The responses included comments that covered many aspects of the work to set salt targets – see the link to the consultation below to read a summary of these.
We have aimed to ensure that the revised targets are set at challenging levels that will have a real impact on consumers’ intakes, while taking into account technical and safety issues.
In setting the targets it was also important to consider, and ensure that the targets reflected, the reductions that have already been achieved by industry, which include:
- The average amount of salt found in branded pre-packed, sliced bread has been reduced by around one-third.
- Reductions of about 44% have been achieved in branded breakfast cereals.
- Reductions of between 16% and 50% have been achieved in some top-selling cakes and biscuits between 2006 and 2007.
- The snack sector has been particularly active and in 2007 alone there was a 13% reduction in standard crisps, 32% in ‘extruded snacks’ and 27% in ‘pelleted snacks’. In some standard crisp ranges, average reductions in the sodium content of up to 55% have been reported.
- There have also been reductions in processed cheese products, including a range of soft white cheeses with 50% less salt for the UK market, a 32% reduction in some retail standard cheese slices, and 21% in the equivalent reduced-fat cheese slices.
- Earlier work led by the Food and Drink Federation (Project Neptune) produced reductions of about 30% in cooking and pasta sauces and 25% in soups by a range of the largest manufacturers.
The UK’s major retailers have also undertaken a significant amount of work on salt reduction and made commitments to salt reductions across a wide range of own-brand products. Some have met the 2010 targets ahead of time in most or all of their products, and one retailer is using the original 2010 targets as maximum salt levels for all relevant products.
The Agency is aware that the revised targets pose a challenge for the industry. In view of this, we appreciate and are encouraged by the continued commitment to salt reduction expressed by the industry, which cannot currently predict that the targets will be met within the proposed timescales.
Developments in food technology – including alternatives to salt and other sodium-based ingredients, manufacturing and distribution chain processes, and acceptable food safety testing – will all be necessary to ensure further progress, as will rebalancing product flavours to maintain consumer acceptability. We appreciate that in the current economic climate it may be more difficult for companies to fund such work, particularly in the short term. The Agency will therefore continue to work in partnership with stakeholders to consider the problems faced in achieving the targets and the timescales proposed, including new issues as they arise, and how these might be overcome. This will include providing ongoing support through research and dissemination of the results of research.
Wider activity will also contribute to helping reduce consumers’ salt intakes including ongoing work within the catering sector, action across European industry as part of the commitments made to the EU High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity, and the next stage of the FSA’s consumer awareness campaign planned for late 2009.
The Agency’s work to reduce intakes of saturated fat and to help consumers maintain energy balance, including forthcoming targets in these areas, and on front-of-pack labelling also contribute to the improving health agenda.
One of the key issues raised in industry responses to the consultation was the potential costs of reformulation activities. Therefore, to further inform the final impact assessment (IA), the Agency held meetings with a number of manufacturers and retailers. This enabled us to better reflect within the IA the wide range of drivers, as well as the costs associated with reformulation work and the impact of salt targets. The new information obtained, including information for the different case studies, is included in Annexe 1 of the IA.
We have consolidated our learning on this issue throughout the costs exercise and will be looking to extend and improve on this approach to assess the impact to business of all our voluntary initiatives on reformulation.
The 2008 consultation on the revised targets also included proposals on how information would be gathered to inform a regular review of progress towards the 6g target. The Agency recognises that the targets are extremely ambitious and challenging to industry, and plans to next review progress in early 2011 and then every two years. Work up to and including the 2011 review will focus on ensuring a continuing trend of gradual salt reductions in foods and progress across the whole industry in a way that maintains consumer acceptability as people’s palates adjust to less salty foods.
Each review will be informed by a variety of information including data on levels of salt in food as well as through ongoing dialogue with industry to identify progress made and continuing difficulties with salt reduction. Data on levels of salt in food will come from a combination of commercial label data, which the Agency will purchase regularly, and information collected through a minimal industry self-reporting framework.
As well as collecting data on salt levels in individual products, progress will also be monitored through the publicly available salt commitments table. Information will be collected annually from industry organisations that will have the opportunity to highlight reductions made, future plans on salt reduction and areas of difficulty. The tables will be published jointly on the FSA and Department of Health websites. Work will start shortly on refreshing formats used previously for both the self-reporting framework and the salt commitments table.
Monitoring of salt intakes in the UK will continue and will be carried out through urinary sodium surveys undertaken as part of the new rolling programme of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which began fieldwork in April 2008. The method used for collecting and analysing the samples will be comparable with previous surveys. The first set of results will be available at the same time as the results of the next review of industry progress.