Hundreds of people have died due to a disastrous Government initiative to cut salt from food, experts have claimed.
A new study by Imperial College London has linked more than 10,000 cases of heart disease or stomach cancer to a scheme which handed control of salt reduction targets to the food industry.
The research shows that the annual decrease in daily salt intake in England slowed markedly after the introduction of the Public health Responsibility Deal in 2011.
Before that, the government’s Food Standards Agency had led the drive to crack down on salt, striking agreements with the food industry to reformulate processed foods, backed up with threats of legislation.
In the year 2000-01, the average daily dietary salt intake was 10.5g for men and 8g for women.
Between 2003 and 2010, the average intake fell annually by 0.2g among men and by 0.12g among women.
By contrast, after 2011 the annual decline slowed to 0.11 among men and 0.07 among women.
Published in the BMJ, the new study argues that the slowdown is linked to 1,500 cases of stomach cancer and 9,900 cases of heart disease or stroke up to 2018 that would not otherwise have happened.
This does not include an estimated 13,320 deaths from the various conditions.
“Public-private partnerships such as the responsibility deal, which lack robust and independent target setting, monitoring and enforcement are unlikely to produce optimal health gains,” the study concludes.
Professor Simon Capewell, a Liverpool University population health specialist who took part in the study, added: “The policy messages from this dietary salt reduction analysis could not be clearer.
“The UK Government has a stark choice – either continue its laissez-faire approach which will kill or maim thousands more people, or reactivate the successful FSA approach which would prevent thousands of deaths, and powerfully assist the NHS and UK economy.”
Responding on behalf of the government, Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE), said: “Previous voluntary action on salt reduction has helped to reduce the nation’s salt intake by 11 per cent, to 8 grams per day.
“However more needs to be done.
“PHE’s review last December shows a mixed bag across industry with just over half of all average salt reduction targets met, with retailers making more progress than manufacturers.
“It is clear that with the right leadership from industry, further salt reduction in foods is still possible.”