UN concerned about CHINA's food safety activists
Posted: December 23rd, 2010 - 6:10pm
Source: Associated Press
BEIJING — China has made "remarkable progress" in growing sufficient food to feed its people but its official efforts to silence people who alert the public to food safety problems are worrisome, a U.N. official said Thursday.
China shifted from a food aid recipient to a international food donor in 2005, a sign of its "significant success" in coordinating and helping small-scale farmers boost productivity, said Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Human Rights Council's independent expert on the right to food.
China says basic self-sufficiency in staple grains for its 1.3 billion population is a strategic priority, but its growing population, urbanization and pressures on arable land are making that harder. The government announced Wednesday that grain production in 2010 was expected to hit 546.4 billion kilograms, up 15.6 billion kilograms from 2009 and marking the seventh consecutive year of grain increases.
However, China has also suffered food safety scandals in recent years connected to lax standards, substandard ingredients and fake products that have shaken public confidence.
De Schutter said he was concerned that intimidation and punishment of activists who have highlighted unsafe food would chill such activism when future food safety violations occur.
He cited the case against Zhao Lianhai, a Beijing father whose son was sickened by chemically tainted milk formula and who helped organize other parents to protest. Zhao was sentenced last month to 21⁄2 years in jail "for inciting social disorder."
"I think that freedoms of expression, freedoms of association, such as those that Mr. Zhao was exercising, are key to protecting social and economic rights such as the right to food ... I think a situation such as that of Mr. Zhao is a source of concern to all those who defend the right to food," De Schutter said.
His preliminary report summarizing his observations and recommendations encouraged China to boost transparency and access to information to help combat its food safety problems.