Nanny state government targets are putting the great British Breakfast under threat. For many, a plate of bacon, sausage and eggs makes the perfect start to a buzy day.
But Government nanny state targets are about to put the great British breakfast under threat.
Butchers and other food retailers say health diktats to reduce salt levels could ruin the taste of some of our favourite dishes, with producers of bacon and sausages facing the greatest difficulties.
More than 60 food firms and supermarkets have pledged to meet salt reduction targets agreed by the Coalition.
But as the deadline grows closer, they fear compromising the familiar tastes valued by customers unless extra additives are introduced. They also fear risking safety, because of the role of salt as a preservative.
Some independent butchers have said they have no intention of changing cherished recipes to meet the demands of the “salt police”.
At least 80 per cent of sausages sold in Britain currently fall short of the government’s 2012 target, which allows 1.13g of salt per 100g of food. Popular brands such as Richmond contain twice that amount.
Own brand packs of bacon on sale at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose all contain more salt than the future 2.88g per 100g limit for bacon.
Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, Deputy Food Director for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said it was “pointless” to put huge efforts into reducing salt if only left consumers adding large amounts themselves at the dinner table.
“Our members have made fantastic progress reducing the levels of salt in food in recent years,” she said. “In some cases we’ve come as far as we can without help from science. If salt is reduced further there’s a danger that products will no longer taste the way customers want them to.”
The BRC and the Food and Drink Federation have drawn up a list of eight foods for which it is proving difficult to reduce salt content without losing flavour or risking safety. In addition to bacon and sausages, the list also includes soft cheeses, cakes, and sauces such as pesto.
Research will be conducted from next month to see if any new processes or ingredients can be found to overcome the problems.
In total, 62 retailers and manufacturers, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Asda have pledged to meet dozens of salt reduction targets by next year.
Their promises were part of a ‘public health responsibility deal’ set by the Coalition before it handed responsibility for nutrition policies from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to the Department of Health.
It is aimed at helping consumers follow health advice to limit their salt intake to 6g a day, in order to prevent high blood pressure that can lead to strokes and heart disease.
Previous targets, brought in last year, have provoked a backlash from fans of HP sauce who said their favourite brand had been left tasting “bland” and “disgusting” after a drastic cut in salt content.
The sauce used to contain 2.1g of salt per 100g, as well as malt vinegar, molasses, dates and tamarind, but the content was reduced to 1.3g to meet last year’s targets.
Internal FSA documents, dated May 2009, state: “Maintaining product binding and succulence in sausages has proved challenging whilst reducing levels of sodium.”
It says some reductions had been achieved, though they fell well short of next year’s commitment.
The same analysis warns of the difficulties of attaining an even dispersal of salt in bacon, and the impact of laws restricting the use of nitrates as a preservative.
Maureen Strong, nutrition manager for the British Pig Executive, said: “When the work first started on these targets, it was led by statisticians, not microbiologists.
“Research showed that the initial targets they drew up would have caused a rise in salmonella, botulism and E.coli.
“They have been altered since then, and we have all tried to work together, but some of the targets for next year are nigh on impossible – at least without too great a compromise.”
She added: “If you want to reduce the salt in sausages, that often means a whole lot more additives. I don’t know if that is what customers are asking for.”
Those most affected by the changes are food suppliers to major retailers. Independent butchers not signed up to the responsibility deal do not have to meet hit the targets, but some feel failure to meet the new standards could be viewed badly by health-conscious customers.
Mick Norkett, founder of the East London Sausage Company, based in Walthamstow, said he would try to meet next year’s targets.
“We do our best to keep the levels low, but salt is a preservative, and in sausages, it is in the skins as well as the sausage meat,” he said.
“If you are having a fry up, and trying to be keep salt levels down, I think the best thing is to stop adding salt at the table, and to avoid slathering on ketchups and beans that are packed full of the stuff.”
Mr Norkett, a butcher for almost 40 years, said reaching the targets would be more difficult for supermarkets that need a long shelf life for their products.
Stuart Higginson, from Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, has run his butchers with his wife Pauline for 28 years.
His sausages meet current Government limits of 1.4g per 100g, which came in last year, but he is not prepared to sacrifice flavour in order to meet next year’s demands.
Mr Higginson, 61, from said: “I’ve never had anyone come in and ask for sausages or bacon with less salt in them.
“I think the government are overdoing this; most of us don’t have bacon and sausages every day, and we want to get some enjoyment from our food when we eat it, not just eat to live.”