The founder of one of Scotland’s best known artisan food brands has blamed the “bully-boy tactics” of Food Standards Scotland for the collapse of her business.

Natalie Crayton, 35, who set up Hebridean Sea Salt on the isle of Lewis six years ago, has confirmed her business has closed as she is no longer able to trade due to an ongoing investigation into addition of non-Hebridean crystals into the product.

She blamed the “unnecessary and extremely heavy-handed” actions carried out by Western Isles Council officers on behalf of Food Standards Scotland (FSS), which advises the Scottish government, for the collapse of her business.

The row follows similar allegations of a heavy-handed intervention by Food Standards Scotland in the operation of Errington Cheese in Lanarkshire.

In January this year, Ms Crayton alleges she was forced to hand over her entire stock of product to environmental health and FSS officers who arrived at her premises without warning. This followed accusations she was adding foreign salt crystals to her hand-harvested seasalt thereby questioning its claim to have “nothing added” as indicated on the label.

Ms Crayton, a single mother of three young children who was born in Edinburgh and studied marine biology at Aberdeen University, said: “I would like to put the record straight because there is so much misinformation being put out there.

“This is not a food safety issue. It is a labelling issue, which had been resolved. The salt I added is pure food-grade sea salt with no additives. Yet my business has been destroyed by the bullying behaviour of FSS, which hid behind Western Isles Council environmental health officers to enforce my closure.

"The local authority had the discretion to handle it themselves, but FSS pushed and pushed to make them take what I feel were the wrong decisions.”

She claims the addition of sea salt crystals to local sea water when it is drying out, which she has been doing for 18 months, is called ‘seeding’ and is common practice among high-end brands and that she had declared it in SALSA food safety audits.

Her sea salt had won a Gold Star in the Guild of Fine Foods’ Great Taste Awards and has been used by Michelin star chefs including Andrew Fairlie and is sold in supermarkets across the UK.

“Nobody ever flagged up a problem with ‘nothing added’. It’s not as if I’ve added iodine or caking agents,” she said, adding that under FSS guidelines “place of last substantial change” rendered the country of origin of the salt she added irrelevant, as it was processed on site.

The authorities seized the salt and over the telephone told her to recall it from supermarket shelves without written notice – fees for which she has been billed almost £50,000. Her business is now in debt that she can’t repay, which means it’s illegal for her to trade again.

Yet two days previously, she had changed the labels on thousands of packs at the factory to remove the words “nothing added” and “Hebridean Sea Water” to comply with the authorities’ wishes. “That broke my heart because it did not make sense to remove those words, as my salt is made from Hebridean sea water, but I did it because I was desperate to save my business,” she said.

“Nevertheless, they came in and seized all my product. I pointed out that I had complied with what they wanted, and asked why they were confiscating it because there is no food safety issue here. But they did not want to enter into any dialogue.

“Since the salt itself was not the problem, I began to open the packs and pour the salt into containers in an attempt to save it. They said: ‘Stop what you are doing’ and they took it all.”

She has heard nothing since and is “living in limbo” on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Her three local employees have been let go.

“I don’t know what they’re doing as they do not contact me. I fear they are making moves to have me prosecuted for mislabelling a product under the Food Standards Act."

“Yet all their instructions for the recall were verbal. I never received a written enforcement notice for that.

Ms Crayton says she is considering whether she has grounds to mount a legal challenge against the Western Isles Council under their own code of conduct and guidelines.

She added: “I don’t believe FSS would act like this towards a large company with a big legal team. I think they like to bully the wee guys. The two FSS officers who took my salt were big ex-policemen, acting like heavies.”

Asked how she felt when it happened, she replied: “I was absolutely distraught. This was everything I’ve worked for, and here it was being stolen from me. I ran outside and fell on the grass in floods of tears. They have destroyed me. I am a shadow of my former self. I feel I have no choice but to leave the Hebrides altogether.”

A spokesperson for Food Standards Scotland said: "Western Isles Council is the lead in the Hebridean Sea Salt investigation and Food Standards Scotland has a supporting role.

"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. This is not simply a case of mis-labelling.

"Investigations discovered that over 80% 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."