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Thousands of people died because of the government handing control of salt reduction to a voluntary food industry programme, new research has claimed.

Analysis in the Journal of Hypertension, based on research from Queen Mary University of London, claimed results of the originally FSA-led salt reduction programme had gone into reverse since it was taken over by Public Health England (PHE).

Between 2003-2014, the UK salt reduction programme led to a 19% reduction in salt intakes and saved more than 9,000 lives a year, the report said.

But since then, the reduction in the number of deaths from strokes and heart disease had plateaued, it said.

Meanwhile, average salt intake rose from 7.58g a day in 2014 to 8.39g a day in 2018, according to the study, despite experts recommending people should consume no more than 6g a day.

The Department of Health is due to publish the latest figures on the industry’s progress of salt reduction targets later this year, amid much speculation about the future of the scheme. As revealed recently by The Grocer, the government is looking to “streamline” industry targets as it draws up plans for a new system of voluntary health reporting.

Last year nearly 250 medical experts wrote to the former PM Boris Johnson urging the government to bring in mandatory salt reduction targets.

Last week, nearly 40 health groups launched a campaign calling on the government to introduce a raft of new taxes on products high in sugar, fat or salt.

“This study reinforces the urgent need for a robust system where we generate worthwhile reductions in salt intake which make a positive and lasting impact,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt.

“It is now up to the government to set up a coherent strategy where the food industry is instructed what to do, rather than the food industry telling the government what to do. We must get our salt reduction strategy back on track for the benefit of public health, the UK workforce, our overburdened NHS and the economy.”