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Salt debate looks set to run and run

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Not everyone's happy with the FSA salt reduction targets

The new salt level targets set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have received a mixed reaction from within the industry. While most Danish bacon manufacturers have given the thumbs-up, some key industry figures have expressed alarm.

John Howard of the Danish Bacon and Meat Council said the Danish industry overall supported the reduction targets, announced in March this year. "This represents a sensible balance between the aim to reduce salt content of bacon - including the consideration of meat and safety and durability - as well as most consumers' taste preferences."

However, Dutch meat processors Vion and Persoon were not convinced. "Government plans to reduce salt intake is laudable, but then we have an issue of food safety," said Robert Smith, Vion head of communication and marketing.

And Leo Persoon, general manager sales at Persoon, added that the new salt targets would reduce shelf-life, push bacon prices up and encourage older consumers to put more salt on their food. "Not everyone is keen on this move, as bacon is already competitively priced and there are food safety issues involved," he said.

Howard explained that the typical salt content of bacon was now around 3.5-4g per 100g of bacon, compared to 5-6g some 20 years ago. The recent FSA recommendations aim for a maximum salt content of 3.5g per 100g for most categories of bacon by 2010.

"The Danish industry produces a number of lower salt alternative products, where the salt content is reduced further still to around 2.5g per 100g of bacon," he said, and added that the development of new bacon curing methods and refrigerated distribution allowed for a significant reduction in the salt content of bacon as well as reflecting a preference by many consumers for a milder tasting product.

Howard said: "Salt however remains an essential part of the production of bacon, which is cured in a salt solution or brine. Most consumers recognise that salt is a fundamental ingredient of bacon. In this respect it differs from many modern processed foods, such as ready meals and breakfast cereals, which may contain higher than expected salt levels."

Technical manager at Direct Table bacon manufacturers, Rob Nugent, was involved in the consultation process with the FSA on salt level reduction targets in meat. He said: "We are glad the FSA took on board our concerns regarding the impact of any radical changes in bacon because salt plays such an important role in the cured meat process, particularly in bacon."

Nugent explained that for other food manufacturers salt was seen as an issue of flavour and consumer acceptance. However, he said, the bacon industry had raised concerns regarding reducing salt levels mainly based on reasons of food safety.

"Salt in bacon is used as a preservative and it prevents the growth of food poisoning and spoil organisms. So we made comments largely based around food safety and the FSA took that on board. We are happy that we have got some sensible and achievable targets to reduce salt levels."

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