China’s Run on Salt
I was just reading this report about a salt-buying panic sweeping China, when my mother-in-law burst into the room asking whether we need to rush out and buy salt before it’s all gone.
The panic started today based on rumors circulating about Japan’s nuclear disaster. Obviously the crisis has everyone on edge, but some rather silly notions being spread by text message have taken hold and sparked a rush to buy salt. One rumor, according to AP, is that the iodine in salt is an antidote to radiation (probably due to the use of potassium iodine tablets in Japan to mitigate radiation poisoning). I was in Beijing during SARS, and this reminds me of the rush to buy turnips based on (false) rumors that it could ward off the disease.
The story my in-laws heard, though, is that the sea has been so polluted by radiation that all the salt will soon be contaminated too. Of course, that’s ridiculous too. As I told my mother-in-law, if the situation ever gets so bad that all the salt in the deep wide ocean is radioactive, then salt is the last thing we’ll going to be worrying about — we’ll all be glowing in the dark first.
Supermarkets in the capital of Beijing and many cities across the country have run out of salt in the last several days as a wave of panic buying spread across provinces from eastern Zhejiang to southern Guangdong to western Sichuan.
Prices of salt jumped five or 10-fold in southern Guangdong, the Internet portal sina.com reported.
In Shanghai, Dong Linhua, a 57-year-old factory worker, said he wanted to buy just 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of salt but could not even find that.
“Salt is not available in any of the shops,” he said. Though Dong said he didn’t believe the rumours, he wanted to have the salt for his family.
Here’s another report from Time Magazine, just out moments ago:
“Salt sold out early this morning,” an unnamed employee of the French grocery chain Carrefour in Shanghai told the AFP. According to the worker, the shop’s store of salt was depleted within a half hour of opening time Thursday. She also said that other sellers around town had raised salt prices by up to 600%.
Another supermarket in the south Chinese city of Guangzhou, 75 miles from Hong Kong, has imposed limits on the amount of salt consumers can purchase in the face of unrelenting queues. “One client can only buy two bags of salt,” a staff member told the AFP. Zou Hemei, a woman in Shanghai, went to six supermarkets to try and find salt to cook with, but found all of their supplies exhausted. “I ended up buying soy sauce as a substitute,” she said to Bloomberg. A customer in the seaport city of Ningbo told CCTV that she brought home with a five-year supply of the granule to allay her family’s fears.