UK pressure group Action on Salt has criticised meat-free suppliers for what it says is an “excessive” amount of salt in meat-alternative products.

Action on Salt has demanded urgent action from UK government agency Public Health England. 

The campaigners – a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, which is supported by 24 expert scientific members – said it has “exposed” the perceived “health halo” of processed meat alternatives, including meat-free burgers, sausages and mince, which are “concealing” high levels of salt.

It said 28% of products surveyed are higher in salt than maximum salt targets and that meat-free burgers contain on average more salt than real meat burgers. 

Action on Salt said Tofurky’s Deli Slices Hickory Smoked and Tesco‘s Meat Free 8 Bacon Style Rashers contain “much more salt” per 100g than sea water.

It found 20% of the products it analysed have no front-of-pack colour-coded labelling, including Linda McCartney’s product range. The Linda McCartney brand is owned by US manufacturer Hain Celestial.

Action on Salt said of the 157 supermarket meat alternative products surveyed, the highest average salt content per 100g was found in meat-free bacon (2.03g/100g) and meat-free sliced meat (1.56g/100g). Per portion, on average, vegetarian kievs were the saltiest (1.03g), followed by meat-free sausages (0.96g).

The organisation last surveyed vegetarian alternatives in 2008. It said the average salt content per 100g has decreased in meat-free sausages and meat-free burgers, the average salt content per portion of meat-free burgers has increased from 0.80g to 0.89g. 

It said Quorn Foods’ 4 Best of British Sausages with 1.9g/100g still remain the saltiest vegetarian sausages available – providing more than 2g salt (2.2g) per two sausages.

The pressure group said it is “very easy” to make products with less salt, highlighting Tesco’s meat-free mince with 0.2g of salt per 100g and comparing that to Naturli’s plant-based mince which contains six times as much salt (1.2g per 100g).

Mhairi Brown, nutritionist at Action on Salt, said: “Research has highlighted that we must reduce the amount of meat we eat to reduce the negative impact of climate change. The food industry have ensured greater availability of meat-free alternatives, but now they must do more to ensure that meat-free alternatives contain far less salt – at the very least lower than their meat equivalents. 

“This survey drives home the urgent need for Public Health England to reinvigorate the UK’s salt reduction strategy.” 

just-food has asked the companies mentioned in the report for a response.