Some unscrupulous traders are importing sodium sulphate and using it to manufacture white dry salt as edible salt across the country
- Sodium sulphate is primarily used to make detergent, paper pulp, glass, and industrial dyes
- Some traders are using this toxic substance to manufacture white dry salt
- Consumers like to buy dry and bright salt, not knowing their harmful effects on health
Salt manufacturers across the country are facing tremendous setbacks owing to the import of sodium sulphate and its sale as edible salt.
Sodium sulphate is primarily used to manufacture: detergent, paper pulp, glass, and industrial dyes. However, the Salt Industry Owners' Association of Bangladesh has said some unscrupulous traders – including a few prominent companies – are using this toxic substance in their modern salt manufacturing factories to manufacture white dry salt. Then they are supplying it across the country – which poses a serious threat to public health.
Kamal Sharif, executive member of the association, said, "This is not salt at all. In fact, it is manufactured through a chemical."
Meanwhile, Kamal claimed the salt they manufacture at all their factories is from salt farmers of the Cox's Bazar region. "These salts are not as white and dry as the chemical salt but these are completely safe for health," he added.
"We do not use any harmful chemicals to whiten our salt," he said.
However, consumers like to buy dry and bright salt, not knowing about the harmful effects it might have on their health, according to salt millers. "Even the authorities concerned do not inform consumers of this issue," they noted.
Fazlul Haque, owner of a salt factory in Jhalakathi, said salt generally remains in very high demand during Eid-ul-Adha, but in recent years, sales of salt have remained low, even during this usually peak season, because of the poor shape of the rawhide processing business.
Most of the salt stored year round is usually sold after Eid-ul-Adha, but this year there was hardly any demand for salt, he said. "If the rawhide business flourishes we may get a good opportunity to sell our salt at good prices and will be able to pay fair prices to salt farmers," he added.
According to factory information, a factory can produce 800 to 1,200 sacks of salt, each containing 74 kilogrammes of the commodity, every day, but now they are manufacturing 100 to 200 sacks because of low demand.
"We sell each kilogramme of salt at Tk13," said Fazlul Haque, adding that they buy raw salt at Tk9 per kilogramme, while they have to spend another three to four taka to meet the processing and transportation costs of a kilogramme of salt.
"I have not made any profit in the last two years. If the chemical salt is not banned we will not be able to make any profit from the business," he said.
The declining business of salt manufacturers has also left hundreds of day labourers working in the industry in a state of misery.
"I could earn Tk600-800 a day by carrying salt earlier, but now my income has reduced Tk200-300 due the low demand for local salt," said Sagir Hossain, a labourer of a Jhalakathi salt factory.
Normally, around two hundred people work at a salt factory. The number of people directly involved with the salt manufacturing industry, including the salt farmers of Cox's Bazar, is more than one lakh.
"To inspire local salt farmers, we have strictly forbidden the import of salt. We give permission to import the item only if a crisis arises in the country," said Abdul Latif, senior information officer of the commerce ministry.
He also mentioned that the ministry is working to develop the leather industry and its business so that the rawhide produced in the country can be used properly. The ministry also has decided to give permission to export leather, he added.
"Sodium sulphate is imported for different industries and some dishonest traders might use it to manufacture salt, but we have no specific information about this." He added.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary KM Ali said, "We have been informed about the use of sodium sulphate in manufacturing salt. Therefore, we are going to be very strict in giving permission to import the chemical and use it."
"We have to give permission to import sodium sulphate for different industries but now we examine the demand of any industry and then give permission for its import," he added.
He also claimed they are conducting special drives to find out if sodium sulphate is being stored, he said.
"We are ready to give all our support to develop salt factories as they are capable of meeting the local demand for salt," the commerce secretary concluded.