OpinionLet’s talk about salt

Let’s talk about salt

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Salt, once a very rare commodity with a history of its own. Salt, mentioned at least 40 times in the Bible.Salt signifying loyalty, fidelity, and purity.  It is used in rituals.  It is used to disinfect, and is a preservative. Who can live without salt?

In a talk by John Sherwin Felix on Philippine Food Heritage & Food Diversity held at Foundation University, I learned that the Philippine’s salt industry is experiencing a deep crisis.

Can this be true?  It is hard to believe that we are actually importing 93 percent of the salt we need. How can that be since we have 36,000 kilometers of  shoreline — from which saltwater could be extracted?  Let us see how this happened.

In 1995 during the Ramos administration, RA 8172 was signed into law. The passage of this law mandated the iodization of all salt produced and sold in the country.

Worldwide, 35 to 45 percent of the population are considered to have iodine deficiency.

Apparently, the World Health Organization was behind a worldwide campaign to iodize salt to address micro-nutrient malnutrition, particularly disorders caused by iodine deficiency.

The Philippines went all the way with the Asin Act.  It criminalized the sale of salt without the iodine.

So even the salt that goes into agriculture, and water treatment were iodized because only iodized salt was legally for sale.

Assistant Majority leader Richard Gomez then said, “The death of the [salt] industry was because of this law [the Asin Act].”

Where did common sense go during these times to dump the entire population into one basket considered as iodine- deficient?

Other factors like the urbanization of land led to the demise of some salt beds.

For how many years whenever I crossed the Old Mactan bridge, I could see wide salt beds beneath the bridge in Mandaue. This was an interesting sight for me because on one family occasion, I was introduced to a 75-year-old aunt who actually owned those salt beds.

All these years, I with some friends who did not want iodized salt, looked for suppliers of non-iodized salt for kitchen use.  The salt vendors in the market would be very apologetic for being compelled to sell iodized rock salt.

The Department of Agriculture published a statement (May 5, 2023) that the possibilities of the salt industry for the Philippines’ overall economic performance are endless; however, it has been greatly affected during the height of the pandemic.

True or not, the pandemic has been made an excuse for many other ills in the country.

In a newspaper report (Philippine Star), House Bill 1976 or The Philippine Salt Industry Development was filed in Congress to “ensure sustainable salt production aims to draw up government strategy that will boost local salt production, and eventually, inch the Philippines closer towards salt self-sufficiency.” 

In this bill, the administrative jurisdiction of salt was moved from the Department of Environment & Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.

Most of all, “the bill repeals the requirement for local salt makers to iodize their salt, giving them the flexibility to cater to different markets.”

Taking the bull’s horns to save our salt industry is indeed overdue, and it seems we are once more on the right track.  Let us see if indeed the country can truly recover, and how long it will take.

For the consumer, it is the task now to find out which salt being sold is indeed non-iodized, and which is iodized.  After all, our labeling laws have a lot to be improved to come up to EU standards.

Another concern on salt looms. If our salt industry peaks again, how safe will our salt be from micro plastic pollution, considering that no shoreline in our country is free from plastic pollution?

The introduction of the so-called “biodegradable plastic bag” which crumbles into pieces until the particles become invisible (nano particles) is a real threat to the salt industry.

And yet, these plastic bags continue to be freely- and indiscriminately-used, even labelling them as “environment-friendly”.

If we could even find these nano plastic particles in our fishes, so will we find them in our waters. And in our salt.

______________________________________

Author’s email: [email protected]

 

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