France Salt Action Summary

2017

Marisol Touraine, health minister, has announced that the five-colour NutriScore will be the official voluntary food label for France, having been found to be the most effective in promoting healthy eating during a 10 week trial. More information can be found here.

2013

In 2013, the WHO reviewed salt reduction activities in the European region and produced the report ‘Mapping salt reduction initiatives in the WHO European Region’. Below is a summary of salt reduction activities in France, as reported within this report:

In 2002 a salt reduction strategy was drafted by a working group of the French Agency for Food Safety, formed of government departments, agencies, industry, consumer associations and scientists. The recommendations from the group included measuring salt intake with 24-hour urine samples and food analyses to determine salt levels in certain foods.  The Second National Nutrition and Health Programme 2006–2010 aimed to reduce average salt intake to less than 8g/day, or a 20% reduction over 5 years. The National Institute for Prevention and Health Education runs national initiatives including consumer awareness campaigns and education about healthy diets.

Bread, meat products, soups and cheese are the main contributors to salt intake in the population. In 2007, the second individual and national food consumption survey (INCA 2) found that population sodium intake was approx. 3.45g/day for men (or 8.6g of salt) and 2.53g/day for women (or 6.3g of salt). These results reveal a decrease of 5.2% in the dietary salt intake since the late 1990’s.  

The presentation of nutritional information on food labels is closely regulated by law. This information is optional, except in the event of a claim regarding sodium, sugar, saturated fat or fibre.

Food manufacturers were called upon commit to salt reduction as part of the National Nutrition and Health Programme, including independent bakeries and the flour industry. Across the country saltshakers have been removed from tables in restaurants. Within the catering sector, salt sachet volumes have been reduced from 1 g to 0.5 g per sachet.

21 October 2010

France launch ‘Groupe SALT’ – an action group brought together by members in France committed to reducing the amount of salt in packaged foods, and raising awareness of the dangers of a high salt diet amongst the French people.

Groupe SALT supports the movement of WASH in salt reduction.

To follow the progress of Groupe SALT please visit: www.salt.asso.fr

March 2009

At the end of 2009, France’s consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs released the results of a large survey, based on 257 products, showing that salt content and salt labelling have not changed between 2003 and 2008. WASH member Dr Pierre Meneton is still working towards changing attitudes to salt reduction in France.

May 2008

WASH member Pierre Meneton, a researcher for the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, France, and an active campaigner for the reduction of salt intake, was cleared of charges of defamation. The case was brought against him after commenting in an interview in 2006; “The lobbying of salt producers and agribusiness is very active. It misinforms health professionals and the media". Due to the very large media publicity around this affair, the French food sector is moving faster on the issue of salt reduction.
www.prwatch.org/node/6949

In France, Government policy and recommendations from various organisations have changed completely in the last 5 years. In 2000, the problem of a high salt intake in France and its effect on health were almost totally ignored. Today, the French Food Standard Agency (AFSSA), the National Academy of Medicine, the National Food Prevention program have all considered the evidence and recognise the problem and call for action.

In 2002 a French Salt Working group was convened. AFSSA brought out a report of the salt working group - "Guide values for salt consumption, 2002" - which gives recommendations on the salt reductions to be made. The recommendations of the working group aim for a 20% reduction in average salt intake spread over 5 years, so that average intake of salt will fall from 10g salt/ day to 7-8g of salt /day within 5 years.

Among its recommendations there were a number of initiatives aimed at the consumer, catering industry, food industry and health professional.

Initiatives aimed at the consumer:

  • Awareness raising campaigns to promote the health advantage of salt reduction;
  • Educate consumers as to how to reduce salt intake;
  • Specific publicity aimed at mothers of young children should be put in place, so that children become accustomed to eating only lightly salted food.

Initiatives aimed at the Catering Industry:

  • By working with school caterers and the school cafeteria, young people will be encouraged to eat lightly salted foods. For example, children’s access to salt cellars on tables will be avoided or restricted;
  • Training for catering staff on reducing the use of salt will be promoted.

Initiatives aimed at the Food Industry:

  • Industry will be encouraged to produce low salt foods and foods with reduced salt content;
  • Industry will be encouraged to adopt the slogan on their products: "The salt (sodium) content of this product has been carefully studied; there is no need to add salt";
  • Sodium should be included on a label when a claim is being made, otherwise labelling is optional;
  • Sodium content should be in grams per 100g or 100ml and, if necessary, per serving.

Initiatives aimed at the Health Professionals:

  • Any nutrition training given to health professionals should include the health implications of salt. This includes the production of relevant education materials such as, leaflets, education letters etc.

However, despite these recommendations no significant change in the salt content of processed foods and salt labelling has been observed by the food industry, except for a few limited actions. Bakery is the only sector that has undertaken real action to reduce the salt content of bread in some French regions. Unfortunately, there is no strong lobbying from physicians and scientists to promote actions. The two main consumer associations (Union Fédérale des Consommateurs and Institut National de la Consommation) try to keep the subject alive but there is very little response from the government who are still very much influenced by the food industry.