Catholics in China have slammed the actions of some of their fellow citizens after witnessing a frantic rush to stock up on salt, sparked by Japan’s nuclear crisis.
Following the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, shoppers began stripping shelves of salt in supermarkets and groceries stores across China, Hong Kong and Macau.
The rush was on after rumors spread that iodized table salt could help protect people from radiation poisoning. There were also rumors that future supplies of salt would be affected by radioactive seawater.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a statement saying it has received reports of people being admitted to poison centres around the world after taking iodine tablets.
Fears about harmful levels of radiation coming out of Fukishima, where firefighters continue to try to contain radiation leaks, has seen panic buying of iodine pills in many countries.
Even some laypeople followed suit even though they had no idea why people were scrambling to buy salt. Some parishioners greeted each other with “Have you bought any salt” when they met on streets.
In southern China, supermarket owner Joseph said salt was being sold alarmingly fast and people further afield were driving in to stock up on the single item.
He said he wasn’t tempted to follow some other retailers who were charging more than 10 times the normal price for a 500-gram packet of salt.
“I cannot earn through such ill-gotten gains, it would be on my conscience,” he said.
All salt stocks in supermarkets and wholesalers went in a single day, Joseph said. In their desperation, shoppers then went after the soy sauce instead, he added.
He said he hoped priests could remind Catholic merchants who ratcheted up their prices to observe business ethics and Church teachings.
Several Catholic internet chat rooms, clergy and laypeople condemned the price hikes.
In their panic, people forgot the fact that China is a major salt-producing country, and that most salt comes from rock salt mines, said Maria, a chatroom member. Only a small proportion of salt comes from seawater she added.
“The whole affair reflects poor psychological qualities in Chinese people, as most of them do not have spiritual support from God,” she noted.
Michael, a retired Catholic engineer in Shanxi, said he was also ashamed to see fellow countrymen becoming frantic over rumors manipulated by dishonest merchants when the Japanese are facing the catastrophe calmly.
Father Peter Peng Jiandao of Handan, Hebei province, lamented that the nation no longer had a foundation of religious belief.
“Leaving aside Christianity, even the traditional teaching of Confucianism that tells us to care for the weak is gone. This reminds us more about the importance of spreading the Gospel.”
Too much salt is harmful to the body, a Hong Kong health official has warned.