Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Cambodia is improving salt quality to boost children’s brain development

By Gregory Jewell

Cambodia’s new iodized salt certification logo.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Morooka

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2018 – 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 iodized 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 iodization. Properly iodized salt, used in moderation, can be a vital source of iodine for children and is essential for their brain development.

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 iodization 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-iodized salt has made its way back onto the market— while being falsely labeled as iodized. 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.

One of the ways UNICEF is working to combat improper salt iodization 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 iodization standards.

Proper salt iodization 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 iodized sufficiently, but also safely, without excess concentration.

Salt producers using ‘the Nimble,’ a simple salt iodization machine
supplied with support from UNICEF.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Morooka

Mr. 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.

Mr. Bun Narin, a salt producer
who uses ‘the Nimble’ salt iodization machine.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Morooka

Mr. Bun 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. Bun uses the Nimble to ensure that his salt meets the recommended iodization standards and says that the machine is easy and efficient to use. He recognizes its importance to his business because he wishes to bring the highest quality salt to the market. Mr. Bun is also aware of the vital public service he is contributing by following the government’s regulations: “By iodizing my salt, I am helping the people of Cambodia, especially the younger generation.” Mr. Bun plans to expand his business, and his daughter, Thyda, has recently opened her own iodized salt producing company and brand in 2016.

The Senior Minister of Industry and Handicraft,
Excellency Cham Prasidh, delivering his remarks
at the launch of the new iodized salt certification logo.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Morooka

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 iodize 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.” 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.

“To ensure the highest quality product, using iodine is not enough – the correct equipment is also needed. It is also vital to standardize and harmonize 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 recognizable logo is an important step for all consumers to immediately recognize 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 iodization. It will signal to consumers that the salt producer follows good manufacturing practices.  All Cambodians have a right to access correctly iodized salt and to guide their choices by recognizing 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.

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