PETALING JAYA: The deadline for iodine to be added to salt sold in Malaysia has been extended to Dec 31 following appeals from importers and repackers.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said the original deadline of Sept 30 has been lengthened to allow more time for the existing stock of non-iodised salt to be cleared first, before iodised salt becomes mandatory.
The ministry’s Food Safety and Quality Division senior director Mohd Salim Dulatti said the deferment was decided based on many requests from industry players.
The regulation requires all table salt or salt weighing 20kg or below to be added with iodine before it can be sold here, while carrying the label “iodised table salt” or “iodised salt”.
“The ministry has agreed to delay the enforcement to Jan 1 due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to difficulty in clearing existing stock,” he said.
Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said the industry appreciated the ministry’s move.
“While FMM agrees with the need to address the iodine deficiency disorder in the country, small and medium enterprises, which are repackers, face problems as the movement control order had delayed the delivery of machines to iodise the salt,” he said.
When new machinery arrives, Soh said repackers need to calibrate and integrate the machines into their production line and conduct trial runs to ensure consistent quality in compliance with the new regulations, which will take time.
Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants of Malaysia president Hong Chee Meng also lauded the deferment, and called on industry players to make the necessary preparations.
“The time that was given to comply earlier was only five days, and it was too short.
“Malaysia does not produce salt, which is mainly imported from China and India.
“There was not much importers and repackers could do about it,” he said.
Hong added during a discussion on Thursday, he highlighted to Dr Adham that the market still needs non-iodised salt because not everyone can consume iodised salt.
On Sept 25, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said a nationwide study on iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) found that 48.2% of school-going children aged eight to 10 suffer from a lack of iodine, with 2.1% of children suffering from an enlarged thyroid gland, a condition known as goitre.
He added that iodine intake among pregnant women and pupils was also not at the optimal level.As such, he said the implementation of the Universal Salt Iodisation in Malaysia will help increase the iodine intake, with the move already mandatory in Sabah through Regulation 285 under the Food Regulations 1985.
Amendments to Regulation 285 was meant to make iodised salt nationwide effective Sept 30.
Failure to adhere to the regulation renders importers and retailers liable for compounds of no more than RM10,000, or jail of no more than two years.
Iodine, although needed only in small amounts, is an important mineral to produce thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolism, growth, reproduction, heart rate and other vital functions.When iodine intake is poor, it causes insufficient thyroid hormones and leads to iodine deficiency disorders such as goitre, cretinism, mental retardation and developmental delays.