The Department of Agriculture (DA) recently announced that there might be a shortage of garlic, onion, and salt by the end of the year as local production does not cover domestic demand. Everyone is reacting to this as if it’s a recent development, when industry insiders have been sounding the alarm for years now.
It is particularly ironic that an archipelagic country is running low on salt, given that all of its 7,640 islands are surrounded by saltwater.
The Philippines, which used to be 100 per cent self-sufficient when it comes to salt, has been importing as much as 93 per cent of its salt for decades now, and it’s because of a law that was passed on December 20, 1995.
Republic Act 8172, or the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide, also known as the ASIN Law, according to the National Nutrition Council website, “is the requirement of the addition of iodine to salt intended for the animal and human consumption in order to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition in the country.”
Though the ASIN Law was drafted as a way to curb iodine deficiency in the country, its unintended side effect was to put the majority of the country’s salt farmers out of business.The ASIN Law made it illegal to sell salt that wasn’t iodized. Since the majority of local salt farmers then (and now) had no funds or facilities to comply, they simply went out of business. This meant that salt, both iodized and uniodized, had to be imported, because even though it is illegal to sell uniodized salt produced in the Philippines, it’s legal to import it. At the same time, it’s also legal to export uniodized salt made in the Philippines, which is why our artisanal salt (thankfully) has a presence overseas.
A well-meaning law destroyed, not just a whole industry, but severely crippled the culture that surrounded it as well, and made a country surrounded by seawater dependent on importing a resource they are rich in. The Philippines loves irony so much, we should make Alanis Morissette our patron saint.
That said, the Philippine News Agency reported that the DA will be beefing up support for salt farmers, including the expansion of production areas, development of technologies, and the provision of processing facilities.
The Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Trade and Industry (DTI) were likewise reminded of their mandates to “identify areas that are suitable for use as salt farms” in the case of the DENR and “to assist and support local salt producers/manufacturers in upgrading their production technologies to include iodization by helping them obtain soft loans and financial assistance for the procurement of salt iodization machines, packaging equipment and technology and fortificant; and by ensuring systematic distribution of the iodized salt in the market” in the case of the DTI.
But even so, wouldn’t it be more practical to amend the ASIN Law?
Now that we are experiencing the unfortunate effects of a law that many people had been warning us about for decades (apparently, seeing the loss of an entire industry and the suffering of hundreds, if not thousands, of salt farmers forced to go out of business wasn’t enough), perhaps it’s time to revisit the ASIN Law and consider the calls to amend it, not just to give local salt farmers a fighting chance, but also to give consumers a choice in the kind of salt they consume.
A salt shortage may be upon us, but it is very, very fixable, especially in the long run. I hope that those with the power to do so will take this into consideration.