For a coun­try sur­rounded by wa­ter, how did the Philip­pines end up im­port­ing salt from China and Aus­tralia?

F&B World - - NEWS - Text by ROMEO MO­RAN Photo by CHING DEE

Apart from just mak­ing food taste bet­ter, salt cre­ates jobs and liveli­hood for thou­sands of Filipinos. We are sur­rounded by sea, any­way. Yet de­spite this, you may be sur­prised to know that the sea­son­ing on your ta­ble most likely came from China and Aus­tralia. How did it end up like that?


If you grew up in the ’ 90s, you’ll surely re­mem­ber then- Health Sec­re­tary Juan Flavier’s in­sis­tent cam­paign to pro­mote the con­sump­tion of iodized salt. It was im­pos­si­ble to get away from it be­cause the com­mer­cial jin­gle and the ads ac­com­pa­ny­ing it preached iodized salt as a way to live bet­ter. That whole drive was due to Repub­lic Act 8172, bet­ter known as the ASIN Law ( Act for Salt Iodization Na­tion­wide), which solely pushed for the ad­di­tion of io­dine in salt to ad­dress the peo­ple’s de­fi­ciency. The cam­paign was ac­tu­ally more for the un­der­priv­i­leged sec­tors of so­ci­ety; those who relied on saltier food to get by ev­ery day and were, there­fore, more sus­cep­ti­ble to the risks of io­dine de­fi­ciency.

Con­se­quently, the strin­gent iodization stan­dards ended up crip­pling lo­cal salt man­u­fac­tur­ers. Own­ing and run­ning a salt farm had be­come more difficult be­cause of all the red tape man­u­fac­tur­ers had to go through. So in­stead of meet­ing the chal­lenges head- on, lo­cal play­ers chose to de­fer the process. “Dif­fer­ent salt play­ers, dif­fer­ent

salt farm­ers had dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes. Some com­pa­nies whole­heart­edly em­braced it. They em­braced change,” ex­plains Ger­ard Khonghun, a salt engi­neer for Sali­nas, a man­u­fac­turer go­ing into pro­duc­ing gourmet food­grade salts.

The in­abil­ity of the ma­jor­ity of lo­cal salt man­u­fac­tur­ers to step up to the iodization stan­dards in­evitably forced mer­chants and con­sumers to im­port salts from China and Aus­tralia, which pass the cri­te­ria. In so do­ing, the Philip­pine play­ers in­ad­ver­tently dug their own grave as for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ers edged them out and left lo­cal as­sets un­der­uti­lized. As of 2016, 80 per­cent or $ 24.4 mil­lion worth of salt in the Philip­pines is im­ported, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Trade Cen­tre.

“It’s tak­ing away from the po­ten­tial liveli­hoods of Filipinos who live on the shore­line,” says chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou, who pro­motes lo­cal salt pro­duc­tion. A sub­stan­tial part of Sarthou’s salt ad­vo­cacy is not only to sup­port the lo­cal in­dus­try, but also to ed­u­cate Filipinos about the salt they buy. Khonghun es­ti­mates that the lo­cal salt in­dus­try max­i­miz­ing its as­sets would gen­er­ate around 50,000 jobs, but the money that could be go­ing into all those wages is in­stead go­ing to salt im­ports.


De­spite the dam­age the ASIN Law had done to the in­dus­try and what some peo­ple close to the sit­u­a­tion may think, both Sarthou and Khonghun main­tain that the law wasn’t wrong, and iodization was ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for health rea­sons. Iodization is not the ma­jor cul­prit, as both im­ported and lo­cal salts can be iodized.

“When you talk of io­dine de­fi­ciency, we’re ad­dress­ing the needs of the mass base of Filipinos. They’re not eat­ing well enough, and one of the best car­ri­ers for io­dine is salt,” says Sarthou. Khonghun agrees: “The law makes it clear that it’s a hu­man health ne­ces­sity. We need io­dine in our bod­ies to keep us healthy… to avoid goi­ter, low IQ, cre­tinism, men­tal re­tar­da­tion, and all of these ef­fects.”

In­stead of ac­tu­ally do­ing away with iodized salt, they’re both ac­tively push­ing for the use of bet­ter salts. Sarthou and Khonghun re­veal that the salt an or­di­nary cit­i­zen can eas­ily buy at a mar­ket is an in­dus­trial- grade salt that has a sharp salti­ness, with­out any min­er­als to round out the fla­vor. It isn’t re­ally suit­able for food con­sump­tion.

The two are ac­tively call­ing for a nu­anced re­work­ing and re­lax­ing of the iodization stan­dards of the ASIN Law, among other is­sues that the law leaves open. A proper amend­ment would al­low ar­ti­san salts— which shouldn’t be iodized— to flour­ish in the coun­try and open up a pre­vi­ously un­ex­plored niche mar­ket. As for the lo­cal iodized salt, it would also call for bet­ter

Ger­ard Khonghun es­ti­mates that the lo­cal salt in­dus­try max­i­miz­ing its

as­sets would gen­er­ate around

50,000 jobs, but the money that could be go­ing into all those wages is in­stead go­ing to

salt im­ports.

sup­port of the lo­cal in­dus­try, loos­en­ing the strict rules and es­tab­lish­ing agen­cies and part­ner­ships to make it eas­ier to run a salt man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness, and hope­fully jump­start an ail­ing in­dus­try.

They be­lieve that the im­por­tant step to take at the mo­ment lies com­pletely in ed­u­cat­ing the peo­ple about the in­gre­di­ent they’re tak­ing for granted. To them, once peo­ple are well- versed in the chal­lenges and is­sues Philip­pine salt is fac­ing, the so­lu­tions will come more eas­ily. When that hap­pens, per­haps fig­ur­ing it out will be as easy as sprin­kling salt on your food.

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