Blog: Chris Brook-CarterChinese pull no punches over melamine scare

Chris Brook-Carter | 10 November 2010

Every now and then there is a story that reminds you of the scale of the food industry's impact on the world at large. When you are caught in the middle, often writing about the nuts and bolts of the sector, it's easy to forget its reach into the socio-political sphere.

As David Cameron tours China - with leading food industry representatives in tow - he has been under enormous pressure from the media at home to bring the Chinese authorities to task over their human rights record. He has so far played things safe - trade not politics has been the mainstay of the discussions. He did address an audience today on the value of a free and fair democracy, but he has carefully stayed clear of criticising his hosts.

However, as if to test their guest's resolve, the Chinese authorities have already prevented Mo Shaoping, the lawyer for Nobel prize-winning Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, from boarding a plane to London.

And then today (10 November), one of the greatest scandals the food industry has ever witnessed reared its head again in China to turn up the heat on Mr Cameron. A man whose five-year-old son was poisoned during China's toxic milk crisis of 2008 has been jailed for two-and-a-half years after he set up a website to warn other parents about the disease.

As a report in today's Daily Telegraph explains, Zhao Lianhai, a 38-year-old former employee of China's Food Quality and Safety authority, created the site in 2009 after more than 300,000 Chinese toddlers were poisoned, and at least six killed, by milk that was laced with melamine, an industrial chemical that made the milk appear more wholesome.

Last November, he was arrested by the police and then charged in March with "creating a disturbance".

Two men were executed last year for their involvement in the poisoning whilst Tian Wenhua, former chairman of the Sanlu Group, the dairy firm at the heart of the scandal, was sentenced to life in jail. Three of her colleagues were given sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

This latest development is sure to prove uncomfortably timed for the UK delegation, but it once again illustrates the food industry's ability to shape the political agenda.


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