The Neverending War on the White Stuff

Salt: A World History Mark Kurlansky Best Price: $1.84 Buy New $4.64 (as of 04:15 EST - Details)

It’s been a bad year in many ways, what with the recession and all. But I suspect that, in the future, we will look back on 2009 with some fondness, because this will be the last year that food tastes of anything. Well, it will be if the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) gets its way.

This week, the FSA published new targets for food manufacturers on the salt content of their products, which must be met by 2012. The eventual aim is to get each adult’s intake of salt down to no more than six grams per day. At present, according to the FSA, the average intake is 8.6 grams. That’s down 0.9 grams per day since the start of the decade, but it still leaves a long way to go. The new targets focus on 80 categories of products, including bread, meat products and cereals, as well as convenience foods such as pizza, readymade meals and savoury snacks.

Health campaigners have already declared their dissatisfaction with the new goals. Alex Callaghan of the British Heart Foundation told the BBC: ‘We are still moving at a snail’s pace. At the current rate of reduction, it would take us 15 years to reach the 6g per day target, putting another generation at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.’

On the other hand, food makers have expressed concern at the new targets. Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents the major processed food producers, said its members were keen to implement the salt-reduction policy ‘where technologically possible, safe and acceptable to consumers’. However, reformulating products in such a way that consumers will still enjoy them would require finding new processing and ingredient solutions, said Hunt, adding: ‘We believe that targets are a relatively simplistic approach to driving progress.’ Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘The new salt targets are much harder and, in some cases, we believe customers won’t accept the change in taste.’

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May 23, 2009