A ‘major step backwards’
Then in 2011 Andrew Lansley, health minister at the time, launched the responsibility deal which made alcohol and food industries responsible for reducing alcohol and improving nutrition.
This move was ‘responsible for a major step backwards in public health nutrition’, argues Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine, and colleagues from Queen Mary, University of London.
With the new responsibility deal, specific targets for salt reduction were not set, reporting mechanisms were relaxed and the majority of non-governmental organisations withdrew from the deal because of concerns that industry interests were prioritised over public health.
This led to a committee dominated largely by industry, explain the authors. Many companies stopped or slowed down their planned salt reductions over this period, and some failed to meet targets.
Food companies and salt targets
New salt targets were set in 2014 following the appointment of new health minister Anna Soubry, but these were not as low as originally suggested – apparently due to lobbying by the food industry.
In addition, there has been poor involvement in the 2017 targets by large food companies because of the lack of enforcement and proper monitoring.
The authors calculated that from 2010 to 2014, around 0.9 g/day of salt reduction was lost based on the trend of salt reduction between 2005 and 2011. If no salt reduction was achieved over this period, the lost 0.9 g/day corresponds to around 6,000 deaths from stroke and heart attack.
Calls for an independent agency
The food industry is ‘the biggest and most powerful industry in the world’ and mechanisms should be in place to control it in a similar way to the tobacco industry, the authors argue.
They say there is an urgent need for an independent agency, similar to the FSA, with responsibility for nutrition with a transparent and effective monitoring programme that is also ‘free from political pressure and influence from the food industry.’
They add that the agency should also aim to reduce sugars and fats in foods that would lead to a decrease in obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.