Action on Salt continues battling UK government’s refusal to increase taxes on salt
21 Jun 2022 --- Following the UK government’s decision not to implement additional taxes on salt and sugar, criticism keeps floating in from several organizations around the UK, claiming the government is siding “with industry rather than the people,” as activist group Action on Salt asserts.
“It’s clear the Government is pandering to pressures from some members of the food industry, and have not considered the real impact this will have on public health. We will continue to call out bad practice and encourage reformulation efforts in those more responsible food companies, monitoring progress and exploring opportunities for further reductions,” Sonia Pombo, campaign manager, Action and Salt tells NutritionInsight.
“But voluntary efforts will only get us so far. If our ministers are serious about reducing health inequalities, they must now introduce mandatory policy measures for the food industry to reduce the salt that they add to the food we buy – like other countries do successfully,” she adds.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University and chairman, Action on Salt comments: “Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure, cut the number of people dying and suffering from strokes and heart disease and importantly to reduce health inequalities, yet the food industry continues to pack our food with unnecessary salt.”
“The Government now needs to stop the food industry from adding excessive amounts of salt to our food and force the industry to ensure that salt reduction targets are met. Thousands of strokes and heart disease events will be prevented,” MacGregor adds.
Salt reduction policies shifted with leadership
A voluntary salt reduction program was implemented in the early 2000s, consisting of collaborations between the Food Standards Agency with food companies to “gradually reduce the amount of salt added to processed food.” There was an overall reduction in salt intake by the UK population by 15%, showing lower blood pressure levels.
The National Institute for Health (NHS) mentioned that this reduction “prevented 9,000 deaths from stroke and heart attacks a year, as well as generating annual cost savings of £1.5 billion (US$1.847 billion) for the NHS.”
The Action on Salt mentioned a visible change when the responsibility was moved from the Food Standard Agency to the Department of Health, as the voluntary policy was no longer followed. They continue:
“Salt intake has not fallen since that early success (in the 2000s), and consuming 8.4g per day is 40% higher than the maximum recommended limit of 6g per day. The BMJ analysis highlights that this is a direct consequence of inconsistent government leadership, no penalties for the food industry if they do not comply with salt reduction targets, and salt reduction falling down the priority list with the current policy focus on obesity.”
Reducing salt has previously been referred to as “a key public health strategy.” Public health has been referred to as an “emergency” and “a tipping point” in the UK. The implementation of additional taxes on salt has been discussed, recommended and expected.
The UK Prime minister Boris Johnsson commented that it is not a suitable approach as it will drive food prices in an already increasing inflation, and accelerate other issues.
However, a similar tax levied on sugar in the UK was found to have lowered the average sugar intake from soft drinks by 10%, evidencing the effectiveness of such policies.
“It’s clear that the government has tried to please the food industry by not adopting the National Food Strategy’s evidence-based recommendations on health. Including a recommendation to tax salt and sugar in processed foods would have saved up to 97,000 healthy life years lost to illness or disease,” Mhairi Brown, policy and public affairs manager at Action on Salt & Action on Sugar, previously told NutritionInsight.
“The Prime Minister will now need to put his foot to the floor to drive progress toward his Government’s own goal of halving child obesity and improving everyone’s healthy life expectancy over the next decade and beyond,” says the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Additionally, the BHF highlights their disappointment with the missing element of additional taxes on salt and sugar in the “White Paper” – the Food strategy report from the UK government.
What can be done now?
The organization Action on Salt highlights two newly published stories on the benefits of implementing a salt reduction program.
Firstly, a study published in the Journal of Hypertension, shows that benefits go beyond health improvements as it may improve health inequality by “benefitting all population groups, particularly the more socially deprived who are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease,” says Action on Salt.
The second study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) stresses that the UK government needs to be “shaken up” in implementing and keeping its salt reduction programs up to date.
Additionally, the BMJ suggests “starting with mandatory salt reduction targets supported by effective and transparent monitoring, and front of pack labels across all products to reveal their high salt content.”
Action on Salt comments that there is no update on tax implementation as of yet, but the Food Strategy mentioned plans to support reformulation and promote healthier food in the upcoming Health Disparities White Paper.
“Unfortunately given what was said in the report, we don’t envisage any commitments with real weight to them,” Pombo concludes.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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