A FOOD watchdog has claimed that a Hebridean Sea Salt firm's product contained more than 80 per cent of imported table salt.

An investigation by Food Standards Scotland claims the company owned by Natalie Crayton on the isle of Lewis is "deceiving consumers on a scale which is not acceptable".

The FSS was responding to criticism by Ms Clayton who said it used “bully-boy tactics” to force the closure of her business.

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Ms Crayton, who set up Hebridean Sea Salt six years ago, said FSS and Western Isles Council had used “unnecessary and extremely heavy-handed” actions to close down her company.

She claimed that rather than a food safety issue, it was a labelling issue, which had been resolved.

But in an unprecedented move, FSS issued a statement detailing the reasons for its actions.

“We would not normally disclose the details of an active and ongoing investigation. However, given the coverage of this case, we believe it is now in the public interest to disclose the issues that are under investigation," the statement said.

“This is not simply a case of mis-labelling. Investigations discovered that over 80 per cent of the salt found in Hebridean Sea Salt did not originate in the Hebrides, but was imported table salt.

“It is Food Standards Scotland’s view that, whilst this is not a food safety issue, deception of consumers on this scale is not acceptable and could damage Scotland’s well-deserved reputation for high quality, authentic food and drink products.”

Ms Crayton admitted she used imported salt to “seed” the sea salt crystals, but said this is common practice and a recognised process used by other well-known UK sea-salt producers.

The fact that her imported seed crystals had not stated country of origin was irrelevant, she added, because it was processed in the Hebrides, making its claim to be Hebridean entirely valid under the FSS’s own guidelines.

“I am not trying to deceive anyone,” she said. “My salt is sea-salt, not table salt. I was very careful where I sourced the seed salt from, so that it was pure sea-salt with no additives. Seeding is a recognised process, so why is everyone making such a fuss of me?

Some well-known cheaper table salt brands include anti-caking agents such as sodium hexacyanoferrate II to help it flow more freely. Ms Crayton denies she added anything to her salt.

“The salt I added is pure food grade sea salt with no additives. My product was unique because it was processed in the Hebrides using the clean, pristine sea water off Lewis. For the FSS to use the words “table salt” is, I feel, a deliberate attempt to devalue my product and make me look bad.

“I declared everything in my SALSA food safety audits and nobody ever flagged up a problem.”

She also disputed the FSS claim that 80 per cent of the salt was not from the Hebrides.

“I don’t know where they get that figure from. They took two samples and the sodium chloride content would be the same in both. There is no difference between salts. What made my product unique was the fact that it was processed in the Hebrides.

“I took extensive advice that I was complying with food safety law. Western Isles Council and FSS have all my food safety documents and until I see written evidence of what they are saying I do not want to say anything else on this.”