The EU has set a deadline of December 31, 2010 to review the use of the nitrates before contemplating banning them in organic foods.
Although the review will take into account efforts made by Member States to find safe alternatives, many UK experts feel there is no likely replacement.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it was "extremely unlikely" that the European Commission would simply ban nitrates if their use was not reviewed by the end of the year. It said it would flag up the UK's concerns and ask what sort of evidence the EC wanted. "DEFRA has commissioned research into alternatives, which will report soon," DEFRA said.
John Weldon, technical manager at the Organic Food Federation, said any ban would damage UK organic bacon producers. The problem was finding natural alternatives, such as vegetable-based dips. But the real problem, he said, was the impact on small bacon producers which would have to invest in new equipment and new processes.
The Provision Trade Federation was unsure whether suitable alternatives could be found. There were cured meat products on the market that did not use nitrites, it said, but they were really only salted pork, not bacon. A ban could mean the end of organic bacon in the UK, it warned.