When I asked my mother why my grandmother’s cooking tasted better, even though they both used the same recipes, she told me that my grandmother used sea salt instead of refined salt for cooking. Since sea salt is not available in the area where I am residing, I asked my uncle to send me some non iodized sea salt from my hometown, on the coast of India. I was really surprised when he told me that he managed to get sea salt with great difficulty because sea salt is banned in the State. He also said that ‘people say’ that sea salt is not good for the health, that it ‘causes’ goiter and should be used only for religious/ agricultural purposes.
I was really shocked at the misinformation being spread in the name of health benefits. That too in the land where the production of sea salt was the foundation of our freedom struggle against the monopolistic business policies of the British colonial government. On the 80th Anniversary of the Dandi March, I bring you this critique of the post – freedom ban on sea salt promoted by salt manufacturers, multinationals and PR organs of the United Nations.
Gandhi's Dandi March to Make Salt
On March 12th 1930, Mahatma Gandhi began his salt march to Dandi to protest against the oppressive British salt tax. The British had monopolized the production of salt and were charging a high rate of tax for sale and distribution. The production of salt by ordinary people and small companies had been banned. As salt is a dietary necessity, this arbitrary salt tax affected everyone. Gandhi wrote in a letter to Lord Irwin, ‘I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man's standpoint’.
Thousands of people joined him on his march to Dandi. The march concluded on April 6th, 1930, when Mahatma Gandhi defied the salt laws by raising a lump of salty mud on the Dandi seashore. He then boiled it in seawater, producing illegal salt. He implored thousands of his followers to likewise begin making salt along the seashore, "wherever it is convenient" and to instruct villagers in making illegal, but necessary, salt.
The Salt Misinformation Campaign
Things changed after independence. The paper generating organs of the United Nations, funded by MNC’s, began publishing ‘research’ and ‘reports’ about the advantages of iodized salt in preventing Iodine Deficiency Disorders. The refined salt industry caught on and began citing ‘sponsored’ scientific studies stating natural salts like raw sea salt and rock salts do not contain enough iodine salts to prevent iodine deficiency disorders. Their lobbies worked strongly to ‘influence’ the Government in favour of making iodized salt compulsory for all. It was ironic that they succeeded. In the land of Gandhi’s Dandi March, sea salt was banned for edible purposes in most States of the country.
Currently, most homes in India use iodized salt for cooking. Iodized salt is 97 – 99 per cent sodium chloride and includes substances that make it free-flowing such as sodium silicoaluminate. It is also mixed with a tiny amount of potassium iodide or similar chemicals. Since potassium iodide evaporates when the packet is opened in tropical countries such as India, a compound called potassium Iodate, is used. This compound is known to be toxic and cause thyrotoxicosis. It has been banned in some countries.
Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD), which iodized salt is said to prevent, include goitre, cretinism, developmental delays and related health problems. Other than iodized salt, iodine is also present in its natural form in seafood, cereals, fruits, eggs, green leafy vegetables and dairy products. Hence, Iodine Deficiency Disorders are endemic only to remote inland areas where no marine foods are eaten or in mountainous areas where food is grown in soil with low iodine content.
Ban on Iodized Salt in India
The current ban on non iodized salt forces the whole of India to consume the unhealthy iodized salt manufactured by salt companies. As salt is a basic dietary necessity, this ban ensures that salt companies can continue to reap stable profits for a long time to come.
Why should 98 per cent of the population be forced to take iodized salt for a disorder that affects only 2 per cent of the population? The cost of iodized salt is more than five times the price of non iodized salt. This money difference is the reason why salt companies have a vested interest in promoting iodized salt and encouraging a ban on sea salt.
In foreign countries, natural sea salt harvested by hand is called ‘Fleur de sel’ and is used in gourmet cooking. It is known to have a unique flavor varying from region to region and is generally more expensive than iodized salt. It is also known to be healthier than iodized salts. Gourmets often believe sea salt to be better than ordinary table salt in taste and texture. Sea salt has also proven to be beneficial to people with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Nowhere in western countries such as the USA, UK, Australia, Switzerland, Mauritius or Turkey is the consumption of iodized salt mandatory.
Solution to the Ban on Iodized Salt
A better solution to this issue would be to create awareness about the foods that naturally contain iodine and advocate a balanced diet. Also, since milling and polishing of rice and other grains removes the iodine content, people should be encouraged to consume non-milled rice.
Natural Salt is the birthright of every Indian citizen. Every consumer has the right to select a product of their choice and we should also be able to choose what kind of salt we eat. Iodization of salt should be properly checked and salt packets should clearly mention the type of salt it contains. In areas where there is low iodine content in the soil, such as Uttar Pradesh and the North East States, iodized salts may be provided to the citizens at a subsidized cost by the Government.
In the days of Gandhi, salt was made at home by the women of the house in coastal areas. It was easy to make, healthy and totally free. Ancestors have been eating sea salt since the beginning of time. No one ever got sick from consuming ‘sea salt’. It is time that we put this social fallacy that sea salt ‘causes’ iodine deficiency disorders to rest.
We must work to revoke the ban on sea salt. We can make a start by 'Non Cooperating' like Gandhiji and beginning to use sea salt at home!!