WASH piles pressure on food makers to cut out salt

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt intake, Hypertension, Nutrition

A global campaign against salt has been launched today with the
stated aim of preventing over 2.5 million deaths a year.

WASH - World Action on Salt and Health - is a concerted effort from 194 medical experts in 48 countries to pressure food companies into reducing dietary salt intake in order to lower blood pressure.

The launch of the campaign coincides with a World Health Organisation summit in Paris to discuss the role of salt in global health, which begins tomorrow.

WASH says that the health implications of high salt intake are backed up by research from a wide range of sources. Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure (hypertension), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a disease that causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe.

CVD is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.

"It is estimated that reducing salt intake by 6g a day could lead to a 24 per cent reduction in deaths from strokes and an 18 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease, thus preventing approximately 2.6 million stroke and heart attack deaths each year worldwide,"​ said the organisation.

In the UK, Ireland and the USA, over 80 per cent of salt intake comes from processed food, with 20 per cent of salt intake coming from meat and meat products, and about 35 per cent from cereal and cereal products.

The new organisation believes therefore that persuading international food companies to reduce the salt content in processed foods and establishing a uniform reduced salt level in each country could therefore save lives.

Salt levels are also much higher in some countries than in others.

"Why should people in Colombia have to eat cereal packed full of salt if people in Italy can have the same product with a fraction of the salt content?"​ said Naomi Campbell, WASH project co-ordinator.

"Why is it OK for British people to have more salt in their Kentucky Fried Chicken Twister than people living in France? These huge variations in salt contents show that the excuses of the food industry - that it is technically too difficult to reduce salt, and that customers will not accept the reductions - are rubbish."

Yet not everyone agrees with the science behind WASH's claims. Robert Speiser, director of EuSalt, told FoodNavigator earlier this year that he strongly disputes the need for salt intake restrictions.

Speiser's concern is that some regulatory bodies, such as the FSA in the UK, focus on certain scientific studies and neglect others. Indeed, many scientific institutions that hold opinions different to EuSalt, such as the Institute of Food Science and Technology, acknowledge that much is still unknown about the relationship between salt consumption and health.

In addition, salt remains a vitally important compound in food manufacturing, in terms of taste and preservation. In processed meat products, for example, salt is involved in activating proteins to increase water-binding activity, improves the binding and textural properties of proteins, helps with the formation of stable batters with fat, and also extends shelf-life with its anti-microbacterial effects.

But WASH chairman Graham MacGregor, who also chairs the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), says that the evidence suggests that reducing salt intake is vital.

"The experience of Finland, which has had a salt reduction programme running since the late 1970s, shows that population-wide reduction of dietary salt leads to population-wide reductions in blood pressure and parallel reductions in deaths from stroke and heart disease,"​ he said.

"But if we are really going to save lives around the world we need to make sure that food producers make salt reductions in all their markets."

WASH stated that it would like to work with multinational food companies to ensure that the salt contents of their products are reduced.

Related topics: Ingredients

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