The “shocking and excessively high” amounts of salt in certain UK sausage brands has been flagged by the consumer lobby group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). New research conducted by Queen Mary University of London points out that by starting the day with a sausage sandwich, UK residents could be eating nearly two-thirds of an adult’s maximum daily recommended intake (6g salt) – more salt than a double cheeseburger and large fries.
Britain eats more than 175,000 tons of sausages each year, according to CASH, which therefore amounts to 61g of salt per person, the equivalent of 134 packets of salted potato chips.
“The UK for a long time was seen as a world leader in salt reduction,” Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for CASH. “Reducing salt in people’s diets is the most cost-effective and successful public health preventive measure that we can make, with huge cost savings for the National Health Service (NHS). For instance, 1g reduction saves £1.5 billion (US$2.01 billion) per year, at a cost of less than half a million pounds a year, according to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).”
“However when responsibility for salt reduction was moved away from the Food Standards Agency, and into the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal, (which then moved to Public Health England control in 2017), control slipped drastically,” Pombo adds.
Pointing at failure of voluntary targets
The survey, conducted using the new FoodSwitch UK app, found that the average salt content of sausages sold today in the UK is 1.3g per 100g, or 1.16g of salt per two sausages – a figure that has remained relatively unchanged since 2011, exceeding the salt reduction targets in place at that time.
As the 2017 voluntary salt targets set by Public Health England are due to be met in just three weeks’ time, CASH is calling for mandatory salt targets to be set, as “the food industry has failed to protect the public’s health voluntarily.”
The worst offender CASH found is Richmond, whose full range of sausages tops all other manufacturers for salt. The group notes that the salt content of Richmond’s sausages has remained consistently high since at least 2011, suggesting that it has made no effort to reduce salt in their sausages.
The research found huge variations in salt levels across all sausages, from the highest at 2.3g per 100g (Richmond 12 Skinless Pork Sausages) to the lowest at 0.75g per 100g (The Co-operative Irresistible 6 Sweet Chilli Sausages) – a three-fold difference in salt content per 100g.
The survey also found large variations within supermarket own-brand sausages. For instance, the saltiest variety sold by ASDA (Extra Special 6 Bacon & Maple Syrup Pork Sausages, 1.1g per sausage) had more than double the salt per sausage of ASDA’s least salty variety (Extra Special 6 Lincolnshire Pork Sausages, 0.45g per sausage). “This clearly demonstrates that making sausages with less salt is possible and could be achieved by all manufacturers, not just the responsible few,” CASH says.
Going meat-free isn’t always healthier in terms of salt either, CASH notes, as some vegetarian options are just as salty. Quorn’s four Best of British Sausages have 1.9g salt per 100g, offering 2.2g salt in two sausages – more salt than half a Pizza Hut Margherita Pizza.
While eight out of ten products had color-coded front-of-pack labeling, allowing customers to see at a glance how much salt and saturates are in their favorite products, the biggest brands – including Richmond, Wall’s and Iceland, fail to provide this, and also have a portion size as “one sausage”, which CASH believes is completely unrealistic.
UK needs to “get tough”
“This survey clearly shows that many companies are not cooperating with the current voluntary policy,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH. “Public Health England, who is now responsible, must get tough on those companies not complying and set new mandatory targets to be achieved by 2020 without further delay. Otherwise, thousands of people will die from unnecessary strokes and heart attacks every year.”
“Salt reduction is the most cost-effective and most successful public health preventive measure made to date, and it is a national tragedy that it is being allowed to fail,” Professor MacGregor adds.
“Generally our recommendation would be health by stealth – gradually remove the salt in foods over time so that customers do not notice the difference,” Pombo tells . “This way people will continue buying their favorite brands, companies continue to make a profit and the nation’s health will improve. Our survey highlights the huge variation in salt content of these sausages, so whilst they may argue that a certain level of salt is required in sausages for safety reasons, they certainly do not need as much as 2.3g per 100g.”