Fri, March 18, 2011
China > Mainland

China races against radiation-triggered salt rush

2011-03-18 13:22:59 GMT2011-03-18 21:22:59(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, March 18 (Xinhua) -- "If you have run out of salt, borrow it from your neighbor; if you have enough salt for another week, hoarding is unnecessary."

This was what the announcement said from China National Salt Industry Corp. (China Salt), which is the country's largest salt supplier. China Salt released the statement through its microblog as people engaged in panic buying of salt due to radiation fears from a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Starting on Thursday, worried shoppers rushed to purchase salt, thereby emptying supermarket shelves in Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces, as well as the municipalities of Beijing and Chongqing.

After supplies were replenished overnight, reporters still were not able to find salt on Friday noon at a three-tiered shelf at a Walmart supermarket near Xuanwumen in downtown Beijing.

On condition of anonymity, a staff member told Xinhua, that customers stood in line earlier in the morning to buy salt, with each customer being limited to two bags.

"The salt was sold out quickly," he said.

The employee further said that the supermarket had contacted the manufacturer and would receive more supplies soon. Meanwhile, the price would remain the same, he noted.

Walmart's ample supply came through the emergency response mechanism of China Salt, which is in charge of the country's salt production and sales.

The salt company also provides 24-hour production and delivery.

From Thursday to Friday morning, the company's Beijing branch has released over 2,900 tons of salts to area stores, 15 times the normal supply, according to the company's website.

The company's Shanghai branch also worked overnight to satisfy the needs of consumers.

China Salt announced in a statement on Thursday that it had ample salt reserves to meet the demand and that panic buying and hoarding is unnecessary.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, announced on Thursday, through an urgent notice, that local price control authorities should counter rumors about shortages of daily necessities and hoarding of such goods.

Also, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOC) on Friday joined other government departments to reiterate that the country's salt reserves are "quite substantial."

"The salt supply is completely guaranteed in the country," the MOC said in a statement on its website.

China has an annual salt production capacity of more than 80 million tonnes, but the country's edible salt consumption is only about 8 million tonnes a year. Salt companies usually also have stocks for three months of consumption, said the statement.

RESIST RUMORS

The statements, whether it came from the salt company or government departments, tried to stop panic buying, which was triggered by rumors that iodized salt could help guard against radiation poisoning.

Most salt sold in China has been iodized as part of government efforts to prevent iodine deficiency disorders.

Experts with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention clarified that iodized salt would do little to protect against radiation since the iodine content in salt is much less than that in iodine tablets, which are taken to reduce the impact of radioactivity.

Additionally, as of 9 a.m. on Friday, the air monitoring results from 41 cities across the country remained normal, according to the National Nuclear Safety Administration.

The forecast from an emergency response center in Beijing, which is affiliated with the World Meteorological Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, indicated that air currents would bring the Japanese contaminants east into the ocean.

Rumors also said that radiation had leaked into the sea from the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, thereby compromising the future safety of salt taken from the sea.

Only 20 percent of the country's salt comes from the ocean and most salt on sale is rock salt, which is mined, according to China Salt.

The seawater in China is not under immediate threat from radioactive leaks, according to the latest analysis from the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center.

China is located to the west of Japan. The contaminants, which previously reached the waters off the northeast coast of Tokyo, had moved east to the Pacific Ocean with the currents, according to the statement.

Besides the timely and transparent release of the monitoring results, the country's media outlets also began to spread scientific knowledge about radiation, such as its definition and impact on people's health.

He Wensheng, an expert from Lanzhou University, said that the government and media showed a rapid and effective response in coping with the panic.

The wave of panic buying among Chinese consumers had started to retreat as fear dissipated, especially in some provinces and cities where the panic spread earlier such as Zhejiang, Anhui and Chongqing. China Salt also expressed gratitude for this rational approach in its microblog entry on Friday afternoon.

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