In a shocker, a US lab report reveals that premium brands of processed iodised salt sold in India allegedly contain alarming levels of carcinogenic and harmful components like potassium ferrocyanide, an activist said here on Tuesday.
According to Shiv Shankar Gupta, Chairman of Godhum Grains & Farms Products, the test by American West Analytical Laboratories has revealed that potassium ferrocyanide levels are an alarmingly high in Sambhar Refined Salt at 4.71 mg/kg, at 1.85 mg/kg in Tata Salt and 1.90 mg/kg in Tata Salt Lite.
Nowhere in the world is potassium ferrocyanide - a deadly poison - is permitted for use in the edible salt industry or for that matter in any other food items, said Gupta, who has launched a mission "to rid salt of harmful substances, expose corrupt practices by the salt industry and help provide healthy and safe natural variants of salt to the masses".
"Leading companies in the edible salt manufacturing industry simply repackage industrial waste laden with hazardous chemicals like iodine and cyanide and market it as packaged edible salt, making people vulnerable to diseases like cancer, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, impotence, obesity, kidney failures etc," he told media persons here.
He accused the companies of adapting "dangerous and undisclosed processes such as bleaching, adding a plethora of dangerous chemicals like iodine and cyanide to 'refine' the salt".
Gupta alleged that the poisonous cyanide compounds are freely used by leading salt manufacturers in India, while iodine, which is already present in natural salt, is artificially added, virtually rendering the salt a poison.
He said that the country's natural salt industry - spread across Gujarat's Kutch, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - has been systematically destroyed by successive governments which hailed "iodised salt" as a healthy alternative.
"Declaring salt from these salt pans, which is naturally suited for human consumption, as inedible is one of the biggest scams in post-Independent India. This is one of the worst cases of corporate greed and corruption with the livelihood of workers in the indigenous salt industry at stake," Gupta claimed.
A strong nexus between the government and industrial lobbies is cheating workers of the indigenous pan salt industry, where it is found in natural form, but it sold at exorbitant prices, leaving the consumers with no choice but to buy the cheap, chemical-laced variants, he added.
He accused the government departments entrusted with the task of ensuring quality standards in the production of branded salt of being "inert".
"RTI applications show that none of the big salt manufacturers have applied for testing or licensing with the FSSAI, which - on its part - has been unambiguous on how refined salt is produced. Moreover, food testing labs in the country are not equipped to measure the quantity of cyanide in salt," he claimed.
Tata Chemicals, which makes the Tata Salt brands, on Wednesday said its salt is "safe and harmless" for consumption. The company said that India is among countries like US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand that have permitted the use of potassium ferrocyanide in salt. The level permitted by regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is lowest at 10 mg/kg, and the Codex Alimentarius - an authoritative guideline on food safety - has declared potassium ferrocyanide as safe for consumption at levels of 14 mg/kg, the company said.
The company said potassium ferrocyanide content in its brands is "well within permissible limits" and is "safe and harmless" to the human body when consumed as per approved levels, adding that iodine is another essential micronutrient needed by the human body daily in small quantity, and is part of the government's efforts to address the issue of Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD).
"Since 1983, Tata Salt has partnered with the government in this (IDD) initiative and played a pivotal role in the battle against iodine deficiency. As per FSSAI, adequate salt iodisation has saved four billion IQ points in the past 25 years," the company said.
This story has been updated with comments from Tata Chemicals.