Thu, March 17, 2011
China > Mainland

Stop hoarding salt, China tells radiation-scared shoppers

2011-03-17 09:31:31 GMT2011-03-17 17:31:31(Beijing Time)  SINA.com

A policeman (C) tries to maintain order as residents line up outside a salt wholesale market to buy salt after it was sold out at local supermarkets in Taiyuan, Shanxi province March 17, 2011. China's economic agency vowed on Thursday to stamp out rumours that have led to salt hoarding and price gouging after consumers emptied shop shelves of it, following baseless rumours that iodine in salt can can ward off radiation. Reuters photo

Customers wait in line to buy salt at a supermarket in central Beijing March 17, 2011. China's economic agency vowed on Thursday to stamp out rumours that have led to salt hoarding and price gouging after consumers emptied shop shelves of it, following baseless rumours that iodine in salt can can ward off radiation. Reuters photo

Customers crowd to buy salt at a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province March 17, 2011. Residents in some Chinese cities flocked to buy iodized salt, as many of them believed it could help ward off potential radiation effects as a result of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant following a deadly earthquake and tsunami, local media reported. Reuters photo

A man uses his phone as he holds packets of salt at a supermarket in central Beijing March 17, 2011. Reuters photo

China's economic agency told shoppers on Thursday to stop panic buying salt, blaming baseless rumours that the iodine in it can stop radiation sickness.

The Chinese government has repeatedly said the country's residents will not be exposed to radiation from a nuclear plant in northeastern Japan which engineers are frantically trying to bring under control after it was damaged by last Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

But in a sign of increasing public worries about the risks, people across much of China have been buying large amounts of iodised salt, emptying markets of the usually cheap and plentiful product.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country's economic policy agency, said price regulators could investigate and punish price gouging.

"In recent days, some areas have been affected by rumours that have sparked intensive buying of salt, and some lawless merchants have leapt at the opportunity to raise prices," said the NDRC in an emailed statement.

"Don't believe rumours, don't spread rumours, and don't panic buy," said the notice.

The spike in demand may be born of a misunderstanding of reports noting that the thyroid gland is susceptible to radioactive iodine -- just one of several types of radiation that could be produced by the crippled reactors -- and that potassium iodide tablets can block the radioactive iodine if taken before exposure.

Salt containing iodine, however, would not shield against the radiation, medical experts said in newspaper reports on Thursday, adding there was no reason for alarm in China, which is thousands of kilometres away from the reactors.

Still, some Chinese residents formed long lines to buy salt, and the state distribution company has vowed to speed up supply.

At a Hua Pu Supermarket in Beijing, shoppers bought salt faster than the staff could stock shelves with it.

One woman carrying a package of salt was stopped and asked by others where she got it.

"This bag of salt was given to me by my friend who bought it this morning," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "I heard they queued for a long time, and each person was only allowed to buy five bags."

(Agencies)

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