VEGA News Item

No Preserving the Porky Pies - 28/07/2008
Salt reduction targets on cured meats, ham, and bacon come up against industry opposition
1. Salt reduction targets on cured meats, ham, and bacon were not only "totally unrealistic" but also presented a serious threat to public health, declared Claire Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation. "The shelf life of vacuum-packed ham has already had to be reduced by a week to comply with nitrate reduction regulation. This will focus us to reduce it further and with that come serious food-safety concerns, not least the risk of botulism."

2. She was delivering a shot in advance of a program on tonight's C4 Dispatches that deals with the sandwich trade and focuses on contents of fat and salt. The levels of these items in preserved meats has troubled the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the preserved meat trade for some time, even to the point of taking some familiar products off the market. Ham manufacturers have been told to reduce salt content to 1.75g per 100g by 2012, a reduction of 30% on the current 2010 target. Further reductions are intended for salt in bread, ready meals, cakes, dairy products, cooking sauces, crisps, and snacks. Manufacturers and the public are to be involved in further consultations.

3. The FSA is claiming some success with its version of ASSALT on levels in food, but the ill-founded public and market confidence in salt is hard to budge - especially as the myth persists that British-made commodities made with salt are likely to contain reassuring levels of iodized salt that would allay misgivings over dietary deficiencies of iodide.

4. Whereas the FSA thinks it is making progress with lowered levels of salt in breads, suppliers of salted meats and dairy foods, and sandwiches warn the Agency that it is "alienating the entire food industry if it continues to pursue targets that many regard as unachievable" (The Grocer, 26 July 2008). Jim Winship, Chairman of the British Sandwich Association say; "We're already in a situation where consumers are complaining about the blandness of sandwiches. We'll soon reach a stage where they stop buying sandwiches altogether and make them at home where the FSA can't monitor salt content."

5. He continues, accusing the FSA of "losing touch with reality", that consultations with industry had been disregarded in the FSA's new guidelines published this week. "If the FSA is not careful, the industry will just give up reformulation efforts all together," concludes Jim Winship. He seems to have little confidence in research and development in the foods and drinks industry. The FSA states that the current average daily salt intake for UK adults is 8.6g, while the target is set at 6g, with the result of preventing an average of 20,200 premature deaths a year linked to excessive salt intake. However, the FSA and the industry have ignored the longstanding challenge of the Marmite soldier: the salt in the bread is heavily augmented in a food popular with children and their parents. Reduced salt versions of yeast extracts and savoury spreads have been available from health food stores for many years but major retailers and manufactures have not taken the possibilities up.

6. Tonight's Dispatches programme will reveal that "M & S sandwiches have more fat than Big Mac and chips." In a scoring of 5 well-known brands in terms of fat, Greggs came bottom with 69% of its sandwiches earning a red light under the FSA profiling system. Pret a Manger was only a little better, 68%; Subway came third with 50% and M and S came second with 47%. Boots did best with 14%.

7. Subway, the UK's fastest growing sandwich chain, came bottom of the list in terms of salt content, with 93% of its sandwiches getting a red light in the test. From worst to best in this test, the series was Subway (93%), Pret a Manger (56%), M & S (35%), Greggs (23%) and Boots (7%). The program's researchers claim to have film showing unhygienic practices in an independent sandwich-making factory.

8. Results displayed for menus in the VEGA version of a Portfolio of eating plans clarify contents of salt (and iodide) for the meals it includes. The FSA is now faced with reaction to its revised guidelines in the form of a new initiative, spearheaded by the Advertising Association, to tackle obesity. Mars, Cadbury, Kelloggs and Pepsico are among food companies who have joined forces with retail, media, advertising, fitness, and health care businesses, along with the government, to promote healthier eating. Together, they will invest over £275m to improve the nation's diet.

9. Salt and read meat have long been associated with high blood pressure (and apoplectic old blimps). A study recently reported in the British Medical Journal concludes from a cross-sectional survey involving populations in London, Chicago, Japan, and China that: "Non-heme iron has a possible role in the prevention and control of adverse blood pressure levels. An unfavourable effect of red meat on blood pressure was observed." These results are deemed to "need confirmation including in prospective studies, clinical trials, and from experimental evidence on possible mechanisms." More reason for "cutting down on meat and dairy", keeping an eye on blood pressure over the years, and eating less "cured" meat, even at the risk of botulism from someone else's sausages in the pantry.  

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