Health Ministry lags behind Iran and PA in iodine fortification of salt

Iran, which has been fortifying salt with iodine for the past 22 years, has found that its children’s IQ has risen as a result by an average of six points.

Salt (illustrative). (photo credit: REUTERS)
Salt (illustrative).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although the World Health Organization has promoted global iodization of salt on a mandatory basis for the past quarter century and most countries have adopted this policy, Israel remains far behind, with no requirement of adding iodine to the salt and baked products.
Iran, which has been fortifying salt with iodine for the past 22 years, has found that its children’s IQ has risen as a result by an average of six points.
Years ago, the Palestinian Authority listened to international experts and fortified its salt and flour with essential vitamins and minerals in keeping with best international practices.
When questioned about this by The Jerusalem Post on this Sunday, the Health Ministry suddenly issued a statement saying that fortification of salt is “being dealt with by our nutrition department,” headed by Prof. Ronit Endevelt. “It is a complex subject, and there is evidence on both sides. It isn’t always possible to adopt international decisions here without considering the implications,” said the ministry.
However, ministry associate director-general and former public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto has, with Endevelt, come under severe criticism in recent months along for “foot-dragging” regarding salt fortification, the addition of vitamin D to all dairy products and adding folic acid to flour to benefit the population of children and adults.
The two senior ministry officials said on Sunday: “We will first suggest voluntary restoration of iodine to the salt [which is removed by desalination of the majority of drinking water in Israel]; then, we will make it mandatory.” The ministry did not give the dates for implementing these. It said that the findings of Israeli research on fortifying salt with iodine have been presented to the “relevant national councils including gynecology, pediatrics and community health.”
Prof. Ted Tulchinsky, a former senior Health Ministry official and emeritus professor at the Braun School of Public Health of the Hebrew University who is now the head of the School of Health Sciences at Ashkelon College, castigated the ministry for foot-dragging on adding nutrients. “If they do what they say now, it will something of an improvement. But it is too little and too late. I don’t trust them at all. Its statement indicates continuation of its failure to provide adequate iodine to our newborns who need an assured supply in order to have optimal growth of mental capacity.”
Tulchinsky added that in 1996 the ministry appointed a committee to examine this issue, headed by Prof Elliott Berry, a leading nutritionist then at the Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine. “The committee recommended fortification of salt on a mandatory basis. The report of this project was accepted by the ministry as the guideline for public health policy,” but was not implemented.
“The voluntary approach to fortification was tried and was grossly inadequate as shown by recent research in Israel. Israeli research has shown that our pregnant women and school children have seriously low levels of iodine.
This creates a danger to our most vulnerable people, newborns and young children. The problem is compounded by our increasing use of desalination of seawater,” he said.
The ministry does not require vitamin D fortification on the popular 3%-fat milk and all dairy products, Tulchinsky charged, because dairy companies prefer to add the vitamin to “premium products” and charge more for them, even though the vitamin is cheap.
Tulchinsky charged that the ministry is bowing to industry pressure not to require fortification.
He concluded that the ministry’s new statement “indicates a program of delay and inadequacy that represents a continuation of failure to act to protect the public health.
It is an indication of the ministry’s disgraceful negligence. What a pity.”