New EU rules dictate that bacon that contains more than 5% water can no longer be sold as ‘bacon’, but must be described as ‘bacon with added water'.
But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that very little UK bacon (within a £2bn market) contains less than 5% water, which it said performed important technical functions.
Water is widely injected into bacon by many UK producers, as it provides a solution that allows for even distribution of curing salts (principally sodium chloride) added to the meat.
Clare Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation (PTF) told FoodManufacture.co.uk that any change in production methods to avoid having to label products 'with added water' could be “incredibly expensive” for producers.
She said that changes to processing equipment alone would cost the industry millions.
If water levels were cut to 5% and below, then there was the risk that salt would exceed the solution’s saturation point and wouldn’t all dissolve, she warned.
If the measure was kept, Cheney said the only thing manufacturers could do was return to old-fashioned methods of bacon production using curing tanks, so-called ‘wet curing’.
However, she said disadvantages of this technique included less even distribution of curing salts, while it was also more costly and took longer. “This is why the injection process was introduced in the first place, because there’s less wastage,” she said.
Cheney speculated that the last-minute change to amend the regulation – removing a passage that allowed bacon producers a 10% water threshold [as per the UK Meat Products Regulations] – could have been the result of a drafting error.
She said there might have been confusion relating to another part of the regulation where 5% is the upper limit for water used as an ordinary added ingredient, rather than one performing a technical function. A misplaced desire for consistency may have led to the error, she said.
The amendment had caught UK bacon producers by surprise, Cheney added.
Other aspects of the FIR had been consulted on with industry over several years, she said, but there had been no prior discussion about this change.
FoodManufacture.co.uk understands that industry bodies are now seeking urgent meetings with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to discuss ways forward.