2017-05-03 13:23:08

A little salt usually does wonders for a dish, but rock salt for sale in several provinces in China apparently smells like stinky feet due to poisonous chemicals.

The Beijing News reported Tuesday that Shenying Salt Company, located in the city of Pingdingshan in central China’s Henan province, is recalling its products. Their Daiyanren-branded rock salt contains nitrite, a poisonous chemical that the report said gives it the odor of smelly feet when heated.

A local newspaper first wrote on the “smelly feet salt” in March, after which the company explained that butyric acid, a harmless chemical found in goat’s milk, was to blame for the smell.

But in the following months, smelly salt was reported in at least eight different provinces throughout China. Then the Nanjing salt quality supervision and inspection station — a quasi-governmental quality inspector — tested the salt and found traces of nitrite.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Henan provincial salt management bureau announced that the smell is caused by several chemicals that are harmless to humans. However, it said the salt did not conform to national standards, and that it had ordered the company to recall its salt and stop production.

Shenying Salt Company couldn’t be reached for further comment on Wednesday.

The discovery comes four months after China began reforming the salt industry. Since imperial times, the production and sale of salt had been a state monopoly, but in May of last year, the State Council, China’s cabinet, released a reform plan in an effort to “carry out an efficient allocation of resources in salt industries and promote the vigor of the market.”

The plan, which allows salt producers to set prices and sell directly to the market, officially took effect from the start of 2017. Local media reported that the price of salt in cities has remained stable, but that in remote areas it has increased by as much as two-thirds.

The reform also allows salt producers to sell and operate across different regions, where previously they were required to sell to state-owned distribution companies in their home province. According to The Beijing News, Shenying has expanded rapidly since the reforms. By the middle of January, it had established seven branches in Anhui, Shaanxi, Hubei, and other provinces where smelly salt was reportedly found.

Luo Yi, an associate law professor at Sichuan University of Science and Engineering, has studied the salt monopoly for years. He told Sixth Tone on Wednesday that the “smelly salt” case is not related to the salt reforms. “This case only involves individual enterprise, and several government bureaus have taken action to remove that salt from the shelves,” he said.

But state-run Xinhua News Agency published a commentary on Tuesday that said the reforms might have caused some companies to forego their best judgement. It urged the government to condct a nationwide investigation and thoroughly crack down on the smelly salt.

“Although the salt reform has invigorated the market,” the article read, “it is necessary to be alert to the fact that some enterprises let their morals and responsibilities slip in a freer market environment.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A screenshot from a video advertisement for Daiyanren brand salt. From the company’s official website)