Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dandi March - Remove Ban on Sea Salt

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’.

Natural sea salt benefits iodized table salt ban India Gandhi dandi marchThousands 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.

Natural sea salt benefits iodized table salt ban India Gandhi dandi marchIn 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 sea salt benefits iodized table salt ban India Gandhi dandi marchNatural 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!!


  1. so u r a gujju???

  2. HEY YAP!!!

  3. I think it should be a matter of choice.I do use sea salt in some cooking.I think sea salt makes the food taste better and when compared to regular salt has more minerals.

  4. Actually, you're misinformed - sea salt can be iodized, too, it just isn't being done so talk to your sea salt supplier about iodizing the salt they sell. It's easily done! Iodizing salt is not a conspiracy by the big salt companies. Iodine is essential for fetal brain development - kids who don't get enough iodine can have 13 IQ points less that kids who did get enough! This is a global problem. Because of erosion, there is very little iodine left in our soils so very few populations in the world get enough through their food. Salt is a common staple and iodine can easily be added and consumed by every one. Knowing that iodine can prevent mental impairment in babies and it is especially the poor, vulnerable and marginalized who are most at risk and suffer the most when they don't get iodine, I'm sure that Gandhi would harvesting his salt and then adding iodine to it to share with the oppressed!
    Check out to learn more about the importance of iodine for development.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Sohail and Starry!!

    Here are some more statistics to inform-

    - Sea salt accounts for about 70 per cent of the total salt production in India. The private sector is involved in the iodization of sea salt and contributes around 95 per cent of the salt manufactured in the country.

    - The world's population is more than 6.6 billion, each person uniquely different. How many people have had an IQ test for iodine done? Who paid the scientists to do this test and why?

    - The main reason that the 'poor, marginalized and vulnerable' people are at 'risk' is not because they do not have enough iodine in thier food - it is because they do not have 'any' food at all.

    - A child who is starving, whose parents are starving and whose surroundings are unhygienic will obviously get sick and die.

    - Worse, the little money that a poor family could spend on buying some extra food or medicines gets wasted on buying expensive 'iodized' salt, which they could have made for free!!

    This is the worst form of exploitation of the poor !! Gandhi would have registered his protest!!

  6. I totally agree. How can the government make salt expensive for the people who make it and live where it is harvested?! Just a great fact, if you ever need to ship a car overseas or anywhere, for that matter, look up Auto Shipping Network. They did an amazing job for me!

  7. I enjoyed your article.

    In the US, manufactured salt is sold with or without iodine. There is generally no price difference and the packaging is almost identical. It is inexpensive.

    Sea salt is far less common and far more expensive, 5-10 times as much. Boutique sea salts from specific locales are also widely available in larger urban areas and specialty shops. They range from 10-20 times higher in price than ordinary salt.

    Iodine deficiency is rare here. Most people are not aware that it is a necessary nutrient.

  8. Is there any difference between the rock salt (khada namak) we get in mumbai bania shops and the fancy seal salt used in western cuisine?

    is unrefined salt bad for health?

  9. Is there any difference between the rock salt (khada namak) we get in mumbai bania shops and the fancy seal salt used in western cuisine?

    is unrefined salt bad for health?

  10. Refined industrial salt, with or without iodine, is highly toxic and has been the cause of new diseases being introduced in certain societies of Africa through the vehicle of food donations from Westernized nations. Sea salt contains dozens of trace essential minerals needed to maintain health. Refined salt contains none of these and contributes to heart disease, ulcers, gastric cancer, vision problems and water retention. It is also possible to have health problems from an excess consumption of Iodine. Refined salt is often used as a flavor enhancer in packaged foods in order to encourage overconsumption and so is also an indirect contributor to obesity. Gandhi was right. Overturn the wicked manipulation of your rights by private corporate interest. Remove the sea salt ban!


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