Inferior quality salt with low content of iodine produced traditionally in the Afar Regional State is flooding the local market, it was learnt.
The majority of the salt consumed locally is traditionally produced at the Afdera Lake in the Afar Regional State by traditional miners. A minimal amount of table salt is imported and supplied to the market. The monthly salt consumption of salt is 360,000 quintals and a staggering amount of it, 310,000 quintals is produced by traditional slat producers association in Afdera.
The government has enacted a law that compels salt producers to iodize the salt. The Ministry of Health in collaboration with UNICEF has been assisting the traditional salt producers associations to build their capacities so as to enable them to iodize the salt.
Iodine is a critical nutrient for children brain development. Shortage of iodine causes goiter and miscarriage by pregnant women.
In 2011 the Council of Ministers issued a regulation that enforces iodization of edible salt. The Salt Iodization Council of Ministers Regulation No. 204/2011 stipulates that no person shall process, import, store, transport, and distribute or sale non iodized salt for human consumption. The regulation states that any iodized salt for human consumption shall conform to the standards for iodized salt set by the appropriate authority.
The Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority is the regulatory body mandated by proclamation No. 661/2009. “Any person who violets the provisions of this regulation or directives issued by for the implementation of this regulation shall be punished in accordance with the relevant provisions of the proclamation,” the regulation reads.
Despite the existing law some producers and traders are supplying inferior quality salt to the market. The Reporterhas learnt that in contrary to the regulation non-iodized salt is being channeled to the local market in large quantity.
Reliable sources told The Reporter that the amount of non-iodized salt supplied to the central market has increased substantially in recent months posing health hazard to the public. “The public is consuming non-iodized salt. Particularly, iodine is crucial for children and pregnant women. We may be feeding our children non-iodized salt. The situation is worrisome,” sources said.
The Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority, which is concerned by the recent developments, last week apprehended 40 trucks carrying suspicious cargo at the Semera checkpoint, the regional capital of the Afar Regional State.
Samson Abraham, public relations and communication director, told The Reporter that the authority is undertaking a stringent inspection work at quality inspection checkpoints. “During our inspection work we have found out that some of the salt shipment has less iodine content, way below the set standard. Some of the slat is not totally iodized,” Samson said.
Samson said that the quality inspection team at the Semera checkpoint is conducting strict inspection work. “We have identified that non-iodized salt is being shipped to the central market. We found out that some of bags on the upper part of the truck contain iodized salt while the other bags underlain on the truck contain non-iodized salt. We also found trucks carrying non-iodized salt,” he said
According to Samson, salt is used as industry raw material is non-iodized. Associations or traders could supply non-iodized salt to salt factories. Tanneries and other industries also use non-iodized salt. These factories are allowed to take deliveries of non-iodized salt. These especial shipments should have support letter from the Ministry of Industry that would be presented to inspectors at checkpoints.
However, the Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority has found out that under the pretext of raw material non iodized is supplied to the market. “We are apprehending non-iodized salt being transported to the central market,” Samson said.
“To control the situation we are closely working with the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Trade and other relevant organizations,” he said, adding that the apprehended 40 trucks would be inspected and would be released if the product meets the standards set by the regulator or it would be returned to the producers if the product is below standard.
The Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority has been working with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and Micronutrient Initiative in building the capacity of the salt producers associations and cooperatives in Afdera. “We offer trainings on the importance of iodizing salt and the negative impacts of shortage of iodine on human health. With the assistance of UNICEF the associations have been delivered with test kits that indicate the content of iodine.”
However, there is a serious concern when it comes to iodizing the salt. The traditional producers spray the iodine manually in lump sum making the iodization process uneven. “At some point the level of iodine is higher than the standards and in some areas it is below the standard,” Samson told The Reporter.
While iodine deficiency poses health hazards excess amount of iodine also has its own side effects. Consuming higher amount of iodine has its own health risks. “High concentration of iodine is toxic to human body. The production process of salt in Afdera by should be monitored and regulated properly,” sources said. In addition the establishment of modern salt processing factories should be encouraged, sources said.
Samson said the authority tries to supervise the production process in Afdera and how the product is stored. However, he said it is difficult for the authority to constantly check every production process and every product. “We cannot say that our supervision work is complete,” Samson said.
“What we are trying to do is put in place a stringent control on the checkpoints. Our inspectors have been trained well and they have rapid test kit,” he said.
The authority is holding discussions with the regional authorities. Samson said that the establishment of modern salt processing factories could raise the quality standards of locally consumed salt. “I think the Investment Commission, Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Industry encourage investors who want to invest in this sector,” Samson concluded.
In addition to the quality of the salt there is a concern on the amount of salt produced at Afdera Lake. Sources claim that excess amount of salt more than what the local market can consume is produced. “Surplus salt is produced and dumped in the locality. This is a grave concern because the resource is non renewable,” they said.
The Afdera Lake has an average dept of 25 meters and covers 116.8 sq.km. The salt deposit in the lake is estimated at 290 million metric tons.