Salt from Canada to help end anaemia in Uttar Pradesh

Hindustan Times, Toronto | By
Mar 09, 2017 03:54 PM IST

A fortified version of salt containing iodine and iron, developed by a professor from the University of Toronto, will soon be rolled out in Uttar Pradesh to counter anaemia.

A professor in Canada is paying attention to the crucial assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. Not because of its political consequences, but because he developed the technology for double fortified salt (DFS) and nearly 6,000 tonnes of the product is to be distributed in the state once a new government is formed in Lucknow.

Professor Levente Diosady (center) of the University of Toronto in his laboratory.(Mark Balson)
Professor Levente Diosady (center) of the University of Toronto in his laboratory.(Mark Balson)

Professor Levente Diosady is an emeritus professor in the department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto. The DFS augments iodised salt with iron, vital to countering anaemia.

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“The idea is that everybody eats salt and, therefore, it’s an easy way to get their health status up,” he said during an interview.

While the idea is simple, the implementation was complex. Its genesis lies with Venkatesh Mannar, then a consultant with the United Nations (now an adjunct professor at University of Toronto) and a person who came from a long line of salt manufacturers in India. Mannar approached Diosady in the early 1990s but it took years for DFS to become viable.

The catch, Diosady explained, was that when iron comes in contact with iodine, the latter evaporates. “There were many, many iterations and testing,” he said. The solution came by way of encapsulating iron into particles that matched salt.

In 2008, it was ready for a pilot project. The Tamil Nadu government introduced the twin micronutrient enriched salt into its school mid-day meal programme. The move was supported by the Canadian government.

It was “very useful” in curing roughly a million children with anaemia, Diosady said. The programme in Tamil Nadu continues, and the Uttar Pradesh venture will be the major large-scale rollout of DFS. Orders for the product were placed in January.

Professor Levente Diosady (left) with his group of researchers at the University of Toronto. (Mark Balson)
Professor Levente Diosady (left) with his group of researchers at the University of Toronto. (Mark Balson)

Coming up next - salt with folic acid and tea with iron

Diosady is doubling down on DFS, and is looking to add folic acid and vitamin B12 to make what may become quadruple fortified salt. The target, the professor said, is women of child-bearing age, thus having an impact on both mother and child.

“Having the whole package is designed to prevent problems during childbirth,” Diosady said, pointing out this version of salt is still more than two years away.

Diosady specialises in food engineering and salt isn’t the only product he is focused on. Also on the table is tea fortified with iron. That brings its own practical issues, including the fact that iron turns tea blue. This problem is being ironed out as discussions have already commenced to market it in India in the not-too-distant future.

“It will start off with iron-fortified beverages, and eventually trickle down to fortified tea that poor people drink,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the expansive DFS availability in Uttar Pradesh awaits that state’s election results. Then the seasoning to resolve nutritional deficiencies will be at public distribution outlets in 10 districts, and the humble salt will enter households as a superfood.

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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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