UK campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) has hit out at industry claims that moves to lower salt in products are reaching their limit.

The associations were “completely wrong” to claim salt reduction was reaching its limit, CASH chairman Professor Graham MacGregor, said. “We must not be put off by a dinosaur-like approach from the BRC and FDF,” he added.

The FDF and BRC project, undertaken by Leatherhead Food Research and published last week, set out to identify techniques to reduce salt in foods, which would also address the related problems of products having a shorter shelf-life or “lacking taste or texture”.

The report claims potential future methods exist but need either “considerably more scientific development”, including establishing their safety for consumption, or have yet to be tried in actual foods.

MacGregor said manufacturers could in fact use the research to further lower salt in their products. “In reality, the report by Leatherhead Food provides food companies with valuable information to achieve their salt reduction goals and indicates that gradual reductions in the salt content of food, coupled with the use of potassium based salt or other ingredient based solutions, can be used to lower the salt content of all food in line with the Government’s recommendations.”

CASH said the industry should work with campaigners and The Department of Health to reduce salt intake to a maximum of 6g per day, which would prevent 18,000 fatal strokes and heart attacks every year and saving the NHS “billions of pounds a year”.

In February, targets were introduced by the Department of Health for salt reduction for 80 specific food groups by the end of 2012. The target aims to deliver around 19m kg of salt being removed from food and drink sold at retail. This is around 30% of the total salt that needs to be removed from the diet for people’s intakes to fall from 8.6g (in 2008) to 6g per day.

“The point about working with the food industry is to emphasise the fact that most of the salt is already hidden in the food so if individuals want to reduce their salt intake they can’t really do it by themselves, they have to have the food industry making the reduction too,” a spokesperson told just-food.

MacGregor believes the Department of Health should now look at setting new salt targets, beyond 2012, to “ensure that the UK continues to lead the world and save the maximum number of lives”.

In response to the comments by CASH, BRC consurtium deputy food director Andrea Martinez-Inchausti said its members have made “fantastic” progress reducing the levels of salt in food in recent years.

“The fact that retailers are choosing to spend their own money looking for new solutions shows how seriously they take their commitment to public health.”

However, she added: “We have to make progress in ways that work. If salt is reduced further there’s a danger that products will no longer taste the way customers want them to. It’s pointless to put this much effort into reducing salt as an ingredient if consumers simply add a large amount themselves. We also need to find ways of preserving food effectively so it doesn’t go to waste.”