Salt Association hits back at “Sid the Slug” campaign

The Salt Manufacturers Association has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority over the use of a cartoon slug to front a new £4 million salt restriction campaign.

The SMA says that the Food Standards Agency character “Sid the Slug” is based on the fact that salt kills slugs and the assertion that it will also kill humans. The reality, says the SMA, is that salt supports life and there no evidence to show that it has ever been responsible for death.

“Salt certainly kills slugs in your garden but if Sid were a human being it would actually be keeping him alive,” says SMA general secretary Peter Sherratt. “We all have the equivalent of about cupful of salt (250 grammes) at work in our bodies at any time and it is absolutely essential to us.

“We realise that Sid is intended as a fun character but the message he carries is a serious one that is incorrect and potentially very damaging to the image of an essential product.”

The SMA has attacked the government-backed FSA campaign, for ignoring the need for more conclusive research and failing to make a proper assessment of the risks it could pose to some population groups. It believes some groups, such as the elderly and pregnant women, may be at risk from following blanket advice to reduce their salt intake.

Mr Sherratt added: “Sid and the campaign that surrounds him is costing the British taxpayer a massive £4 million, yet the research that is needed to produce conclusive evidence would probably cost little more than £100,000. When it comes to health, aren’t we are all entitled to expect advice based on proper science and not on questionable evidence?”

In support of its case, the SMA points to the Department of Health’s own National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published earlier this year, which concluded that there is no effect on the blood pressure of healthy people from eating salt. The survey found that the major correlation was between alcohol intake and body mass index and blood pressure.

The SMA believes resources being devoted to blanketing the nation with the salt reduction advice would be better directed to more closely targeting those who are hypertensive and treating them with the highly effective drugs now available, as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommended only last month.


Key facts from Salt Manufacturers Association

Salt is vital to our health

  • Each one of us has the equivalent of a cupful of salt (250g) in our bodies and it is working very hard to keep us alive.
  • The sodium in salt is an electrolyte that helps maintain the fluid balance in your blood cells and transmits electrical impulses between your brain, your nerves, and your muscles.
  • Symptoms of insufficient salt range from muscular cramps to heat exhaustion. Severe deprivation of salt puts lives at risk.
  • As the oldest preservative known to man, salt also plays a vital role in protecting us from food poisoning. If we reduce the use of salt, we have to be extremely careful that we aren’t opening the door to increased risk of disease.
  • If you go into hospital and need say a saline drip or kidney dialysis, salt is an absolutely essential ingredient in keeping you alive.

If you are a normal, healthy individual, you do not need to cut your salt intake

  • A host of research, including the Food Standards Agency’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, has shown that there is no significant effect on the blood pressure of healthy people from eating salt.
  • Your kidneys very precisely filter your salt intake - any that is not essential to your body is excreted.
  • Under medical supervision, a low-salt diet may be beneficial for those already suffering raised blood pressure.
  • Scientists internationally do not agree with the need for blanket advice on salt intake for the population as a whole.
  • It would be far better, in our view, to devote resources to identifying those suffering hypertension and treating them with the highly effective drugs now available.

There is a great deal of expert opinion from around the world that contradicts the Food Standards Agency’s stance on salt

  • The evidence on the salt and health debate is not conclusive.
  • Several large-scale intervention studies have shown that restriction of sodium in the diet has no effect on diastolic blood pressure and only a minimal effect on systolic blood pressure.
  • Since 1995, 10 studies in the United States have reported on whether low sodium diets produce health benefits. All 10 indicate that, among the general population, lower sodium diets don’t produce health benefits. In fact, not a single study has ever shown improved health outcomes for broad populations on reduced sodium diets.
  • In February 2004, a coalition of six Canadian medical groups rejected a recommendation for universal salt restriction, choosing instead to make lifestyle recommendations for reducing blood pressure such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and stress management.

What’s needed is (a) conclusive research and (b) an holistic approach to changing the nation’s dietary habits.

  • Our view is that salt is being damned without adequate evidence.
  • Given the importance of the issue, we fail to understand why the government is not commissioning the research that is so badly needed.
  • In the meantime, we would advocate a much more holistic attack on the nation’s dietary habits designed to reduce alcohol consumption, tackle obesity and increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Such factors have been found to have a marked effect on reducing blood pressure.

Salt restriction could pose a risk to some population groups

  • The FSA policy on salt is being pursued without any proper assessment of the risks blanket population advice could pose to some population groups, notably to pregnant women and the elderly.
  • For a pregnant women, a low-salt diet can cause problems with blood volume in the unborn child, which in turn can cause a rise in her own blood pressure.
  • In the case of the elderly, cutting salt can be dangerous, especially in the summer months. Because elderly people tend to drink less and are less acclimatised to hot weather, salt lost through sweat is not replaced. Their blood pressure rises, so putting added strain on their hearts.
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