Food-Safety Enforcement in China: Death Penalty for Poisoning Milk; Two Years in Prison for Talking About The Milk Being Poisoned

A court in Beijing sentenced activist Zhao Linhai today to

two and a half years in prison

for “inciting social disorder,” the New York Times reports. The disorder in question consisted of Zhao’s efforts to organize and mobilize the thousands of Chinese parents, like Zhao himself, whose children were harmed by melamine contamination in the country’s supply of milk and infant formula.

The melamine, which was added to substandard milk to make it pass quality tests, was found in the milk during the summer of 2008. The news was suppressed till after the Beijing Olympics had ended that August, by which time hundreds of thousands of infants had been sickened and six had died. Then, as the Times reports, the government cracked down on the offenders:

The authorities later arrested scores of farmers, melamine dealers and dairy executives, two of whom were executed. Tian Wenhua, the former chairwoman of the Sanlu Group, one of the nation’s biggest milk producers, was given a life sentence.

Even so, Zhao’s private efforts on behalf of the victims were deemed disruptive to law and order. His lawyer described the sentencing to the Times:

When the verdict was read Wednesday morning, he said, Mr. Zhao shouted out “I’m innocent” and tore at his prison uniform. Before officers dragged him away, he declared his intention to stage a hunger strike. “We never expected such a heavy sentence,” said his wife, Li Xuemei, one of three relatives allowed in the courtroom.