Like it or not, infant formula has risks. The way powdered formula is made, it's impossible for it to be sterile. We've seen from recalls that random things can end up in it, causing anything from mild stomach irritation to death. I think we can agree that formula companies should be held responsible for product flaws that increase any risk or are directly the cause of serious damage to a child.
In 2008, formula made in China was bulked up with melamine, an industrial plastic, to increase profits. It also caused kidney stones and kidney disease in the babies and toddlers who consumed it. Over 300,000 babies were harmed, some permanently, and six babies died. SIX babies.
Father Zhao Lianhai of Beijing became an activist after his son experienced kidney problems from the contaminated formula. He created a website for support, information, and to organize a way to demand compensation through legitimate petitions.
And because of that, he now faces 2 1/2 years in jail.
He was arrested and placed in jail a year ago, but just received his sentence. His crime? Inciting public disorder. Apparently he was seen as a "frightening" activist, causing such insanely "risky" behaviors as silent protests outside dairy factories and courthouses, and speaking at meetings and media interviews. He became the public face for thousands of parents seeking some form of compensation and closure after their children were killed or became sick as well.
A lot of fingers are pointing at the Beijing government's fear of dissent or opposition of the Communist rulers, especially after activist and writer Liu Xiaubo became the first person from China to receive a Nobel peace prize -- despite the threats from the Chinese government that he should not be awarded. Liu Xiaubo has been in jail for 11 years on charges of subversion and yet is seen as a voice of freedom and human rights by those pushing back against the Chinese government.
It seems as if the Chinese government is terrified of being overruled, to the point where they'd even jail a father who wants people who knowingly put babies at risk to at least answer for their crimes. There are plenty of people who refuse to admit that formula can be dangerous, but when it comes to the point where even trying to seek money for damages lands you in jail for years, the very lives of the children your government is sworn to protect are in grave danger.
Supporters stood outside the courthouse, sporting yellow ribbons, and yelled, "It's the government that committed a crime for not protecting our rights and our health," and "Zhao Lianhai is a hero!"
Frankly, I agree with them. Zhao Lianhai has my full support, as does anyone who tries to increase protection for infants damaged by formula companies, and demand compensation for those who have already suffered. China, the revolt that you're enticing with your threats is what you should really be afraid of.
Image via Michael Scott/Flickr