U of G research helps a Canadian company to solve iron deficiency around the globe.

Posted on Thursday, September 24th, 2015

A Canadian company is working to solve iron deficiency around the globe 

Lucky Iron Fish has come up with a simple, affordable way to get more iron in people's diets

By Brandon Barrett

PHOTO SUBMITTED - IRON WORKERS A new Canadian company is hoping to tackle iron deficiency around the globe with a simple, affordable and cost-effective iron ingot, pictured, that can be used while cooking. A trial run in Cambodia has nearly halved iron deficiency rates for 10,000 families.

  • IRON WORKERS A new Canadian company is hoping to tackle iron deficiency around the globe with a simple, affordable and cost-effective iron ingot, pictured, that can be used while cooking. A trial run in Cambodia has nearly halved iron deficiency rates for 10,000 families.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but an iron fish?

Ontario-based company Lucky Iron Fish has found a cost-effective way to significantly reduce iron deficiency that has already helped over 10,000 Cambodian families lead healthier lives.

The idea is a rather simple one: Place the fish-shaped iron ingot into your cooking pot, and the iron leaches into your food. One fish has been found to provide an entire family with three-quarters of its daily iron intake for up to five years. Simple as that.

Trial runs in Cambodia — where nearly half the population doesn't get enough iron— have already cut iron deficiency and annemia rates by almost half.

The brainchild of former University of Guelph student Christopher Charles, the Lucky Iron Fish Project came to be after he was researching iron deficiency in Cambodia for his PhD. He found that many refused to take iron supplements, and families that cooked with a piece of scrap metal could get the iron they required, but were often using the blocks as paperweights and doorstops instead.

"So he did some research and figured out the symbol of luck in Cambodia is a fish, and so he shaped the piece of metal like a fish and compliance rates increased dramatically," explained Lydia Summerlee, the organization's sales coordinator.

What's more is the fish costs only $5, less than it would cost for a Cambodian to purchase a cast iron pan, another regular source of iron. And while the fish will run you more in North America — it's listed at $25 — for each one purchased, an ingot is donated to a "fish tank" in Cambodia, where doctors will ensure it gets distributed to communities in need.

The company has earned a lot of positive press recently, including a write-up by CNN and a Thomas Edison Award, given to leaders in innovation, and is committed to ethical, sustainable business practices. For example, Lucky Iron Fish uses only recycled materials, and recently opened its first foundry outside Cambodia — located in Bowmanville, Ont. — to cut down on shipping and fuel needs. The organization also employs disabled Cambodians who have been the victims of mines left by the Khmer Rouge, and has partnered with non-profit Friends International, which hires at-risk youth, to make its packaging.

Summerlee is hoping the attention can push the company towards its long-term goal of "putting a fish in every pot" around the world.

"We are focusing on promoting international sales both at an individual level and on a larger consumer scale," she said.

Currently, Lucky Iron Fish sells in Cambodia, the U.S. and Canada, with plans to launch globally in the coming weeks. Summerlee said the company has already garnered strong interest from Australia, the U.K. and in South America, and is working on targeting midwives societies, Crohn's disease support groups, aboriginal communities and anywhere else where there's a need to reduce iron deficiency rates.

For more information, visit www.luckyironfish.com.

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