The government plans to ban non-iodized salt from the market place in October, according to a sub-decree signed last October.
All producers, factories, restaurants, hospitals and others must use iodized salt when cooking or their business will be fined and the salt confiscated, the subdecree said.
Experts say using iodized salt can help reduce the rate of health problems, including mental retardation, stillbirths, miscarriages, goiter and, in extreme cases, cretinism, that are caused by iodine deficiency.
Only 14 percent of the population currently uses iodized salt—much less than in neighboring countries, according to Chay Than, Minister of Planning. The government wants to raise that to 95 percent by 2007, he added.
But the government has “no ability” to distribute iodized salt to the provinces and is not able to lower the price of iodized salt, which tends to be more expensive than ordinary salt, said Kim Saysamalen, undersecretary of state at the Planning Ministry.
Salt production is primarily based in Kep and Kampot province, said Puth Chandarith, governor of Kampot. About 176 salt farms are spread out over
4,000 hectares of land in the region.
Measures have been taken to iodize domestic salt production. The UN Children’s Fund provided the government with seven machines for farmers to mix iodized powder into ordinary salt.
Kampot produced about 14,500 tons of salt in 2003, enough to serve 22 percent of the country’s demand, Puth Chandarith said. The rest of the salt is imported from Thailand, China and Vietnam.
Some provincial governors were concerned that poor villagers would not be able to afford the iodized salt.
“How do people afford to buy iodized salt if the price is 1,000 to 1,500 riel [about $0.25 to $0.37] per kilogram?” said Chhom Bunkhon, first deputy governor of Ratanakkiri province, which has one the country’s highest goiter rates.
Villagers in his province usually buy non-iodized salt from Vietnam for about $0.10 per kg.