UN concerned about China’s food safety ac­tivists

The Pak Banker - - International -

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.

"It is quite re­mark­able that this coun­try, de­spite the re­straints it is fac­ing, is able to feed it­self and has achieved such a high level of self suf­fi­ciency in grain pro­duc­tion," De Schut­ter said at a news con­fer­ence mark­ing the end of his first trip to China

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 formu- la and who helped or­ga­nize other par­ents to protest. Zhao was sen­tenced last month to 2 ½ 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.

De Schut­ter said he raised Zhao's case in his meet­ings with China's For­eign Min­istry and was told that Zhao was not "pros­e­cuted or con­victed for ad­vo­cacy - he was con­victed for pub­lic dis­or­der." -Afp

MOSCOW: Su­dan's For­eign Min­is­ter Ali Ahmed Karti , left, and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov walk prior to their meet­ing in Moscow, Rus­sia. -Ap

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