Think of the role of parents in advancing food safety in the United States.  Nancy Donley, Suzanne Kiner, Peter Hurley, and Kip Moore are a few of the many who come to mind.

Nancy Donley’s 6-year-old son Alex died from an E. coli O157:H7 infection.  She went on to lead the national advocacy group for victims of foodborne illness called Safe Tables Our Priority, or S.T.O.P.

Suzanne Kiner is Brianne Kiner’s mother.  Brianne was the most severely injured survivor of the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak, where any story of modern food safety awareness begins. Time and time again, Suzanne is the one telling it.

Peter Hurley is the father of Jacob Hurley, who at 3 years of age fought off an incredibly serious Salmonella infection from eating peanut butter crackers.  Peter, a Portland police officer, was a powerful witness before Congress against Peanut Corporation of America.

Kip Moore almost lost his 18-month old son Chance to E. coli, and went on to write the book “Second Chance,” telling how his family got through a foodborne illness tragedy.

Now let’s turn to another parent, Zhao Lianhai.   He’s the one who has been sent to prison for 30 months for engaging in the same kind of advocacy as Donley, Kiner, Hurley and Moore.

Zhao, however, did it in China.

Here’s the story.  Zhao, 37, is the father of a then 3-year old victim of melamine-contaminated milk and baby formula.  His son had kidney stones.  And China’s melamine scandal was raging.

It would end up being China’s worst food safety scandal in recent history with the Communist government acknowledging 300,000 cases and a half dozen deaths from kidney failure.  The number of infants and toddlers who required hospitalization was 53,000, officials said.  Many suspect the actual numbers are much higher.

Zhao, with skills in media and advertising, launched an information center for parents when he put up a website called “Home for Kidney Stone Babies.”  Chinese parents, like those in America with infected children, wanted more information.

Why was an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer being found in the milk?

From his apartment in south Beijing, Zhao became the go-to-guy for parents seeking information official government media was not providing.  Information was also coming to him, like a copy of a Department of Public Health document telling hospitals in the Henan province not to record or report kidney stones of less than four millimeters. 

Field reports that parents of dead children were being denied autopsies to determine if melamine was a cause of death also were copied to Zhao, who shared them with his readers.

China is not only a Communist dictatorship, it is a Communist dictatorship with considerable commuter skills.  It was not long before Zhao, student volunteers who helped him, and most of his relatives all came in for threats and intimidation from China People’s Armed Police.

Zhao pushed on. 

China’s investigation found milk dealers  sought out melamine producers to boost the protein readings in milk formula, and they rounded up a number of them for criminal trials ending in lengthy sentences and a couple executions.   

As 2008 ended, attention was focused on a government-proposed compensation plan for parents that offered cash in exchange for not holding the government responsible for any long-term medical care that might be required.

The $164 million fund offered parents with a seriously injured child $5,300.

Zhao did not like the deal.  He figures that with 70 million children under age 3 living in China in 2007, the number with kidney stones is likely much higher than the official figures.

Zhao was arrested 12 months ago, and was just sentenced to 30 months in prison for “inciting social disorder.”  Human rights groups are protesting,

What might be done about this injustice?   China is throwing an international temper tantrum about the Nobel Peace Prize being award to freedom writer Liu Xiaobo, who is also imprisoned by the Communists.  China has gone so far as to demand foreign governments boycott the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in December.

Obviously, they are not letting Liu attend in person.

This prompts me to advance this idea: let’s nominate by next February Zhao Lianhai for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.   For his courage in protecting children, he should be honored, not treated like a common criminal.

We all do not fit into the categories of people who are allowed to nominate Nobel Peace Prize winners.  However, within the Food Safety News readership, I think we have a lot of folks who fall into the third category:

  • University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology, directors of research institutions and foreign policy institutes.

If you fall into that category (or one of the others), please consider nominating Zhao.  Send us a copy and we will publish it here.   Check out the official site of the Nobel Prize for more details.

Zhao’s nomination would honor all those parents who became activists and advocates around the world because they care about  children.  It would also teach China a lesson.