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- Bangladesh successfully eliminates lead adulteration in turmeric.
- Nationwide campaign leads to a drastic reduction in blood lead levels.
- This program provided an additional year of healthy life for just $1.
Bangladesh has recently achieved a significant public health milestone by effectively eliminating lead adulteration in turmeric, a common spice integral to South Asian cuisine, writes The Economist.
A successful campaign based on science
In 2019, a team from Stanford University and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, in collaboration with Bangladesh’s food-safety authority, launched a comprehensive campaign against the use of lead-chromate pigment in turmeric.
This initiative, supported by high-level politicians including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was fueled by research demonstrating the link between turmeric consumption and elevated lead exposure, particularly among pregnant women in rural areas.
In less than two years, turmeric samples containing detectable lead in Bangladeshi markets plummeted from 47 percent to zero.
This has had immediate and far-reaching public health benefits, with blood lead levels among turmeric mill workers dropping by an average of 30 percent. The overall reduction in lead exposure across the country has potentially saved thousands of lives and delivered significant health improvements at minimal cost. According to a preliminary analysis by Pure Earth, a New York-based environmental NGO, this program provided an additional year of healthy life for just $1.
The Stanford team now aims to replicate these efforts in India and Pakistan, where turmeric adulteration is suspected to be even more widespread.