The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set voluntary salt reduction targets for manufacturers and retailers of some processed foods for the first time.

The new reduction targets apply to salt levels in the 85 food categories contributing most to the amount of dietary salt.

In a statement the agency noted the progress made by retailers ASDA, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose but chose not to mention other stores such as Morrisons and Somerfield.

The retailers that were excluded had not made any less effort to meet the voluntary targets, although “some have done a bit more than others,” a spokesperson for the FSA told just-food. “The voluntary limits have worked well so far, and we have been in consultation with manufacturers and retailers over a number of years.”

The statement mentioned that the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers has reduced the levels of salt in breakfast cereals by 33% since 1998, and the Federation of Bakers has cut the amount in bread by up to 30%.

The FSA also said that Kraft has lowered the salt in its cheese spreads and snack products by around a third and members of the Food and Drink Federation have reduced the salt in soups and sauces by 30%.

It is estimated that at least 26m people in the UK exceed the recommended 6g of salt a day, increasing blood pressure and contributing to 170,000 deaths a year.

FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health Gill Fine said: “We are pleased with the work that many parts of the industry have done to enable us all to reduce our salt intake. The guidelines we are launching today are the next step in the programme of salt reductions.

“Although challenging, we believe the salt levels set out represent a realistic rate of reduction which will have a real impact on consumers’ intakes. We will review the targets in 2008, to ensure that progress continues to be made towards achieving the 6g maximum recommended salt intake.”

Industry body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) stated its approval of today’s (21 March) guidelines which are considered more realistic than original proposals made in 2005.

FDF deputy director general Martin Paterson said: “Industry will continue to work with FSA to help government achieve its aim of reducing Britons’ salt intake.

“We welcome the agency’s recognition of the enormous progress by industry to date. Last year alone, the UK food and drink manufacturing industry delivered an astounding GBP7.4bn (US$12.9bn) worth of products with lower levels of salt. In addition, consumers were able to choose from GBP2.4bn worth of lower salt variants.”