Iodine Global Network (IGN)

Russian, Ukrainian market interests fight iodized salt

The two largest countries in Eastern Europe are also the two with the biggest IDD problems. In Russia and Ukraine, efforts to promote use of iodized salt have been thwarted by pharmaceutical companies, salt produces and some food processors who favor a strategy of using iodine tablets as supplements. Some have questioned the health benefits of iodine or alleged that dietary iodine creates vitamin deficiencies. The insightful analyis by Pavol Stracansky appears in the Inter-Press-Service's "The Story Underneath."

"Anatoly Karpov, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who has worked extensively in former Soviet Union countries to promote salt iodisation, told IPS: 'There is no logical explanation for why Russia and the Ukraine are not mandating the use of iodised salt. The authorities do not seem to have a real grasp of how important this is.'

"Iodine deficiency has been classed as the most common preventable cause of mental disability in the world. More than 38 million children are born with impaired mental abilities every year because their mothers' diets do not contain enough iodine, according to UNICEF.

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) has backed providing iodine through salt for human and animal consumption as the easiest, most effective and least expensive way for complete prevention. The cost per child of iodising salt – the iodine is sprayed into salt during the refining process - is 0.05 dollar per year, according to the World Bank.

"UNICEF and the WHO launched a programme of global salt iodisation more than a decade ago aimed at getting regional governments to make iodisation of edible salt mandatory.

"The Belgrade conference last week heard how supermarket chains in Russia had, under growing economic pressure, begun buying salt from producers in a tender process with an emphasis on the lowest offered price. This led to the top five retail chains selling only non-iodised salt.

"The salt programme’s backers however, reject this argument. Tyler told IPS: 'The extra costs (of iodising salt) are minimal compared to the positive health effects that can be gained from it.'

Others suggest a wider set of interests at play in opposition to mandatory salt iodisation, especially in Russia.

"One source at the Belgrade conference, who asked not to be named, told IPS: 'The people who are against this in Russia and the Ukraine are pharmaceutical companies who want to market more iodine tablets, salt producers, other food industries and the government. They say that iodine is available in other products and therefore there is no need for legislation on mandatory salt iodisation.

"'But the issue with those arguments is that, can all these ‘other products’, which include iodised vodka of all things, actually be given to kids and pregnant mothers? And also, producing all these products is still a more expensive and less effective way of getting iodine to the population.'

"Karpov also told IPS: "\'In Russia, there is solid opposition (to iodising salt) and that opposition is in the commercial world where people want to make some business out of this.'"