The report by Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) said a survey of 300 sausages had found that “many are still shockingly high in salt”.
“By starting the day with two high-salt sausages at breakfast, you could unexpectedly be eating half of your daily recommended maximum of 6g salt,” said the campaign group.
But the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the report was “comparing apples with pears” because salt content is labelled in different ways by different producers.
The BMPA said CASH did not take into account the fact that the salt content of a raw sausage will be lower than that of the cooked product, although either figure may appear on packs.
Kerry Foods’ Richmond Sausages were highlighted as some of the saltiest on the market, along with Royal Berkshire, Broad Oak Farm and own-label products from Sainsbury’s and Iceland.
Report 'fundamentally flawed'
However, a Richmond Sausages spokesman hit back, telling FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Contrary to the findings of this report, all Richmond sausages meet the FSA’s 2010 salt reduction targets.
“The CASH survey was fundamentally flawed as it failed to recognise that the FSA’s salt targets refer to raw products, rather than cooked. This type of public report is extremely unhelpful to companies such as ours who are making significant efforts to improve the nutritional profile of their products.”
The government is encouraging a limit of 1.13g of salt per 100g of sausage by 2012, but BMPA director Stephen Rossides said: “A good chunk of the industry is pretty wary of the 2012 target. We’ve committed to past targets and hit them, but there’s a feeling that the 2012 targets are just going too far now and we have some difficulties with them.
“The industry as a whole has made significant efforts to reduce salt levels. Inevitably the pace of progress is going to slow as we start to reach the limits of taste, texture and preservation and you start to alter the main function of the product.”
BMPA technical manager Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson said sausage manufacturers might need to discuss ways of unifying labels so consumers can find it easier to tell how much salt products contain.
But she added that as sausages could be cooked in several ways, it was not always possible to accurately predict their salt content when they arrive on the plate.
Newmarket-based Musk’s, which produced the most salt-laden products in CASH’s survey category, said a labelling error distorted the real salt content.
The firm’s sausages were said to have 2.5g grams of salt per 100g, the equivalent of 1.6g per sausage, and five times the salt content of a 34g bag of crisps.
But Musk’s said that CASH had overstated the salt content due to incorrect packaging. “I thought that sodium was the same thing as salt,” said md Chris Sheen. “Apparently it’s not. We’ve got 1g of salt per 100g but we declare 1g of sodium.
“Unfortunately we have learnt the hard way that there is in fact 1g of sodium in 2.5g of salt, hence the poor survey results. I am sure people would sympathise with our mistake on the packaging and this is currently being rectified.
“We unreservedly apologise to our customers, as in fact our sausages contain one of the least amounts of salt in products within this category.”
Sheen added: “Our packaging has been trawled all over by trading standards so I don’t know how an expert didn’t pick this up.”