Ernest Dempsey — It seems science and health are taken like a humorous game in some developing countries, including Pakistan where the policymakers, like suddenly, have jumped on an assumption and started riding full speed without direction. What else could be said of Pakistan’s new fumble at emulating the world, and particularly its arch rival India, in health standards? This time, it’s iodine in salt.
Last month, three salt-processing units were sealed in Lakki Marwat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, by the local administration when they found out that the factories were not iodizing the salt even though the law banning the production of non-iodized salt was already in effect. And a couple of days ago, a meeting including the local administration and Micronutrient Initiative’s representatives in the same area discussed strict implementation of the law making iodized salt the only legal form of salt to be made available in the market.
The grounds asserted for banning the production and sale of non-iodized include the various health effects that iodine deficiency causes in children and adults. Obviously, the policymakers find the industrial approach to solving problems more tempting than getting the public informed on health via natural means. Iodized salt aside, many fresh and vegetarian foodies won’t approve the use of salt at all due to its numerous negative health effects, including serious damage to the heart and the cardio-vascular system of the body (restriction on its use in patients with blood pressure is a common example).
But given the ancient habit of eating salted/salty foods, the food and health departments in Pakistan seem to be entirely unaware of fact that iodine enters people’s bodies daily through natural foods. Among the many foods rich in iodine are such common sources as milk, yogurt, beans, cheese, different fruits and seeds, and potatoes – the latter being part of an average Pakistani family’s daily meal while hardly any house is without milk or its derivative foods. So why do we need iodine at all in salt?
It happens that iodized salt costs twice to thrice than non-iodized salt. Given the history of corporate influence on policymaking, one may suspect whether something “salty” is being cooked here, not to mention the question of excess iodine intake due to its forced inclusion in salt and the possible health effects resulting from iodine toxicity.
It is important to note here that much more serious threats to health exist in this country and require more urgent law enforcement against the causes that are more strongly related to them than iodine to the health problems which make the basis for law against non-iodized salt. Smoking, for example, is a huge threat to public health – much more serious and expansive than other health risks salt – cancer and heart disease being its two main rewards to those who take to it. And its addictive nature makes it more perilous than salt which is taken just a few times a day in meals while smoking is an average smoker’s constant companion. Do the lawmakers have the courage to face it and ban cigarettes or other kinds of tobacco products in the country? Hardly so!
Now when the focus is on educating the public rather than imposing bans, a better approach would be benefitting the public via information on using natural foods that are available everywhere and provide the amount of iodine required daily by the body. Jumping to decide what goes on people’s dinner table is not only irrational; it is plain ridiculous.