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Chinese snap up salt amid Japan nuclear scare

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 17, 2011
Chinese retailers on Thursday reported panic buying of salt, partly because shoppers believe it could help ward off the effects of potential radioactivity from Japan's crippled nuclear power plant.

"Salt sold out early this morning," an employee with a branch of French supermarket chain Carrefour in Shanghai told AFP, declining to give her name.

She said all the salt was snapped up within 30 minutes of the store's opening on Thursday by anxious shoppers, adding that many customers reported salt prices at other shops in the city had risen as much as six-fold.

A staff member at a supermarket in the southern city of Guangzhou said salt demand had spiked so sharply that the store had imposed temporary limits on how much each customer can buy.

"There are many people queueing to buy iodised salt in our store. We have to control it. One client can only buy two bags of salt," she said.

Anxiety has been growing in China over the potential harmful effects of radiation emissions from its Asian neighbour, despite repeated Chinese government announcements that the country faces no imminent health threat.

Salt sold in China is mostly iodised as part of a national policy to prevent iodine deficiency disorders.

Chinese consumers are now hoping iodine in the salt can reduce the impact of possible radioactivity as the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant deepens.

But state-run China National Radio said the iodine content of edible salt in the country averages between 20-30 microgrammes per kilogramme, quoting experts saying that is too low to have any effect.

In one Beijing supermarket, salt was completely sold out by midday but still shoppers flocked in to try to buy some, most of them citing fears about radiation from Japan.

"I saw on the Internet that salt was good to prevent contamination after the Japan quake, but I'm not entirely sure why," one customer told AFP.

Some shoppers apparently also believe future salt shipments could be contaminated by the disaster and were buying now to stock up on supply, Xinhua news agency reported.

The panic buying sent shares of salt producers higher Thursday, bucking the weakness in the broader market.

Yunnan Salt & Chemical Industry surged by the 10 percent daily trading limit to 15.10 yuan in the morning session, as did iodised salt producer Inner Mongolia Lantai Industrial Co, which surged by 10 percent to 17.44 yuan.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.51 percent to 2,915.98 points.

In an apparent move to calm nervous consumers, state-owned China National Salt Industry Corporation said Thursday that China "has rich salt reserves" and consumers do not need to hoard salt, Xinhua said.

Radioactive iodine from a nuclear event can pollute the air and contaminate the food supply, while thyroid glands quickly absorb the radioactive substance, causing damage, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

Iodide pills can block radioactive iodine from being taken into the thyroid, it explained.

The official China Daily said Thursday cydiodine tablets had sold out at many pharmacies in cities including Beijing and Shanghai after the earthquake and monster tsunami struck Japan leaving more than 13,000 dead or missing.

A military hospital in Beijing on Wednesday started offering radiation testing services for people returning from Japan, state media said, as authorities stepped up checks on incoming travellers and goods for possible contamination.

Meanwhile, prices of many Japanese imports -- from baby formula to lotions to fish -- have surged due to a supply crunch following the disaster, state media reports said.

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Foreign governments urge nationals to leave Japan quake zone
Tokyo (AFP) March 16, 2011
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