Battle lines were drawn between food companies and the health lobby this week, as new health secretary Jeremy Hunt was urged to begin unravelling the Responsibility Deal and impose tough new targets for salt levels in food.

The DH this week held a meeting of food companies, industry bodies and health groups to try to thrash out the next steps in its plans for salt reduction.

In July, food companies claimed they had “reached the limits” of what was possible in salt reduction, with a string of categories seeing companies flounder in their bid to hit 2012 targets of a 15% reduction.

Now health groups are calling on Hunt to ignore these concerns and impose even tougher targets if he wants to reduce UK intake to below the maximum 6g per person recommended by experts.

The Grocer has also learnt the groups are using the departure of Lansley, a driving force behind the Responsibility Deal, to call on the government to set its own targets rather than negotiate them with industry, starting with salt, with alcohol and fat also on the hit list.

“The health lobby are calling for targets to be imposed and they would like to see the Responsibility Deal broken up,” said one food industry source involved in the talks.

“At the meeting, DH were still saying when pressed that they see the Deal as the way forward but whenever there is a change at the helm it does open up the possibility of a change.”

Professor Graham McGregor, chairman of Cash (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), said: “We would like to see Jeremy Hunt bring areas such as salt reduction back under the remit of government. I believe it was a tragedy that the powers were taken away from the FSA.”