The government has warned that everyday foods could be labelled “high in salt” from February 2004 unless the food industry sets its own salt reduction targets.

Health minister Melanie Johnson told this week’s “salt stakeholders” meeting that she expected the industry to commit to reduced salt levels on lines like ready meals by then.

Representatives from the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation and the IGD were among delegates at the joint Department of Health and Food Standards Agency meeting - dubbed the salt summit.

In her presentation, Johnson outlined how salt levels in a typical food basket could be reduced to come into line with a 6g recommended adult daily intake. The salt content of the average beefburger, for example, would have to be cut by 40%, and that of baked beans by more than a third.

Johnson said: “Three-quarters of salt intake comes from processed foods, like ready meals. Despite claims by the industry that they’ve taken substantial action, we need to see real steps forward.”

The food industry now plans to co-ordinate a salt reduction strategy - possibly through a new working group. A Food and Drink Federation spokeswoman said the new group was likely to be co-ordinated by IGD. She said a technical working group would probably look at how much salt could realistically be taken out of products like bacon and bread.

On the day of the summit, Sainsbury announced its own targets, lowering acceptable salt levels in five areas of its own label range covering pizzas, ready meals, soups, sandwiches and breakfast cereals.

In breakfast cereals no new products will be developed with more than 0.6g salt per serving and existing products will only be allowed to have 0.9g salt by January 2004.

Sainsbury plans to set targets in other areas of it own label range next year.
Anne Bruce