Uncanny health proposal triggers salt-hoarding

  • 2005-07-06
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Rumors of pending government measures to ban the sale of non-iodized salt recently set off another wave of panic buying, similar to what the region saw during the run-up to European Union membership in spring 2004.

Health Minister Gundars Berzins sparked the rush after announcing tentative plans to restrict sales to only iodized salt for health reasons.

The government, however, decided July 5 not to restrict sales of any type of salt.

Sales of non-iodized salt have increased 40-fold in some stores over the past week after news broke of the impending prohibition. Enough salt was sold in a day's time to equal the monthly average, according to Inta Krasovska head of public relations for Rimi Baltic, the Baltic News Service reported.

However, as with the previous panic buying, the prohibition once again proved to be apocryphal.

The Health Ministry stated that the sale of non-iodized salt would not be forbidden, and the initial plan was never implemented. Still, a final plan for regulating salt sales was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on July 5, though it was absent of prohibitions against non-iodized salt.

The ministry did, however, insist that there was a deficit of iodine in the nation's diet and is advising the population to eat, among other things, fish.

The government initially promoted iodized salt for health benefits. Pregnant women, for instance, need iodine for their child's brain development. Iodine deficiency in adults can lead to thyroid and metabolism problems.

Iodized salt costs slightly more than domestic salt and also expires within two 's three years, while locally produced salt, favored for pickling vegetables and mushrooms, has no expiration date.

Also, many claim that iodized salt is simply not as good for pickling, marinating, or use in cabbage. The iodine can turn the pickles a darker color, and the anti-caking agents can cloud the liquid.

Even Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis was concerned that the use of iodized salt would make for inferior marinating. "This is a serious question. I also marinate mushrooms at home, and that means that maybe I will no longer be able to do so," the Cabinet chief said in a government meeting.

However, experts doubted that the addition of iodine would alter the way vegetables and other products are conserved. "International experts have not shown that this salt cannot be used for conserving, or that the final result is worse," said Gita Rutina, deputy head of the public health department, insisting that the addition of iodine provided a number of health benefits.

Much of this salt variation comes from outside the country, from Denmark, Germany and Belarus.

Prior to EU accession, word spread that course salt, used by many to preserve jars of food for the winter, would either see a substantial rise in price or would be banned altogether. Others staples, such as sugar and oil, were also subject to panic buying as a result of misleading reports.