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Food Safety Protester Jailed in China

For those of you who worry about government overreach in the food industry, let’s consider the opposite possibility: You could live in China.

Take the case of Zhao Lianhai, whose child was one of 300,000 Chinese citizens who got sick from tainted milk in 2008. After assembling with other victims of the food safety debacle to protest for compensation, Lianhai was arrested last December and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, says he has raised Lianhai’s case with Chinese government officials.

“I think the freedom of expression, and freedom of association such as those that Mr. Zhao was exercising are key to protecting social and economic rights such as right to food,” said De Schutter.

He rightly fears the effects of crackdowns on people who raise concerns over food safety. The most obvious worry is that people will do nothing about their concerns in fear of spending time in prison, possibly leaving millions in peril.

“Without information flowing freely, without transparency, without the possibility to hold governments accountable, there will be simply less attention paid to the needs of the population and there will be more impunity,” said De Schutter.

China’s dairy industry took a hit in 2008 when it was revealed that the industrial chemical melamine was added to powdered milk to give it a false reading for higher protein content.

An activist group called The Chinese Human Rights Defenders is demanding Zhao’s release.

“The Chinese government has convicted him of a crime for his activism, and in the process made a mockery of the legal system and the rule of law,” said Renee Xia, the CHRD’s international director.

The important lesson I think we should take from this is that there should be less fear of government overreach in our food safety and more of a fear of our public officials doing nothing, then punishing people for raising concerns over our food supply.

(via: Yahoo! News UK & Ireland)

December 30th, 2010

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