Iodised salt to boost children’s brain development

Gregory Jewell / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Cambodia’s new iodised salt certification logo. UNICEF Cambodia/Iman Mooroka

Salt iodisation has been compulsory in Cambodia since 2004. While rapid progress was initially made in this regard with critical support from UNICEF, over the past few years, non-iodised salt has made its way back onto the market – while being falsely labelled as iodised. A new government policy now sets salt manufacturing standards and includes the introduction of a new logo for the certification of iodised salt, writes Gregory Jewell.

The government of Cambodia, with support from UNICEF, launched Prakas 85, a new government policy which sets salt manufacturing standards and includes the introduction of a new logo for the certification of iodised salt.

The new policy is an essential step in improving food safety and children’s health in Cambodia and demonstrates the government’s commitment to universal salt iodisation. Proper iodised salt, used in moderation, can be a vital source of iodine for children and is essential for their brain development.

Bun Narin, a salt producer who uses the ‘Nimble’. UNICEF Cambodia

Iodine deficiency poses a significant risk to the health of Cambodian children. A recent study indicated that 70 percent of women and especially pregnant women lack an appropriate amount of iodine in their diet. Without a sufficient amount of this essential mineral, millions of children are at risk of losing up to 13 IQ points. Iodine deficiency prevents children from reaching their full potential despite efforts to improve their learning ability through better school quality and enrolment.

For these reasons, salt iodisation has been compulsory in Cambodia since 2004. While rapid progress was initially made in this regard with critical support from UNICEF, over the past few years, non-iodised salt has made its way back onto the market – while being falsely labeled as iodised. This situation first came to light in research conducted by specialists from UNICEF along with other partners in 2014. The findings demonstrated that over 90 percent of coarse salt and more than 60 percent of fine salt in Cambodia did not meet the mandated government standards.

UNICEF nutrition experts and our partners have been closely monitoring the iodine situation in the country because of its direct link to child nutrition and have been supporting the government to find innovative solutions to remedy the issue. The government’s new commitment at policy level will provide more thorough oversight of the salt being manufactured and sold in Cambodia, which is an essential step in improving children’s health and food safety in the region.

A salt mine in Kampot province. Salt producers must now add iodine to their products or face losing their licence.Photo: Mai Vireak

One of the ways UNICEF is working to combat improper salt iodisation is with a simple machine called ‘The Nimble.’ This reliable, low-cost technology was developed specifically for small-to-medium sized salt producers in rural areas that may not have access to electricity. To date, several salt producers have remodeled their factories and invested in this technology to ensure that their products meet the government’s salt iodisation standards.

Proper salt iodisation practices are essential, merely using iodine is not enough. To ensure the highest quality product, the correct equipment is required. In the past, there have been cases where improper manufacturing practices led to salt being sold with excess iodine concentration – which could be toxic. The Nimble ensures that salt is iodised sufficiently, but also safely, without excess concentration.

Bun Narin, the owner of Thaung Enterprise and one of the salt manufacturers who has acquired The Nimble machine, was present to witness the launching of the new Prakas 85 at the event hosted by the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft.

A salt warehouse in Kampot province. Photo: Mai Vireak

Mr Narin described how he did not always produce salt using iodine, explaining that it wasn’t until UNICEF approached him that he understood the importance of adapting his manufacturing practices. Now, Mr Narin uses The Nimble to ensure that his salt meets the recommended iodisation standards and says that the machine is easy and efficient to use. He recognises its importance to his business because he wishes to bring the highest quality salt to the market.

Mr Narin is also aware of the vital public service he is contributing by following the government’s regulations: “By iodising my salt, I am helping the people of Cambodia, especially the younger generation.” Mr Narin plans to expand his business, and his daughter, Thyda, has recently opened her own iodised salt producing company and brand in 2016.

The Senior Minister of Industry and Handicraft, Excellency Cham Prasidh, highlighted that salt is the best vehicle for improving iodine deficiency among the Cambodian population. “Everyone needs salt for daily cooking,” he explained, “that is why we need to iodise all edible salt.”

He described how the government initiated the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning system to be competitive with other countries. However, he pointed out that “To make this system a success we need capable people with good learning ability – and adequate iodine intake would help.”

The ‘Nimble,’ a simple salt iodisation machine. Photo: UNICEF Cambodia/ Iman Mooroka

He also described how salt production is part of the heritage of the Cambodian people, adding that “it needs to be protected.” The senior minister recommends that all 25 provincial departments of Industry and Handicraft strongly manage and control all salt production and work to enforce existing legislation and regulation.

With the launch of this new certification logo, it is vital that we spread the word to as many people as possible, said the senior minister.

“To ensure the highest quality product, using iodine is not enough – the correct equipment is also needed. It is also vital to standardise and harmonise the manufacturing code, and the standards, of all small and medium-sized enterprises. UNICEF and its partners have seen inappropriate manufacturing practices leading to the production of excess iodine concentration that could be toxic,” stressed Arnaud Laillou, Nutrition Specialist with UNICEF Cambodia. “Having a new, easily recognisable logo is an important step for all consumers to immediately recognise quality-salt for sale.”

The logo will be available through the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft only to factories with the correct procedures in place to comply with the standards that ensure proper iodisation. It will signal to consumers that the salt producer follows good manufacturing practices. All Cambodians have a right to access correctly iodised salt and to guide their choices by recognising those products that follow the appropriate guidelines.

Cambodia took a positive step towards making sure its consumers use only safe and high- quality salt. Now we must all do our part to spread the word about this important new initiative. UNICEF Cambodia.

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