When China announced its food safety whistleblower reward program in late 2011, reports didn't say how much would be up for grabs, and six months later, fear of retaliation was still routine among those merely keeping track of public data – including the recall of mercury-tainted infant formula by China's biggest milk producer.
This week, Reuters reports that Chinese authorities will offer up to $48,200 as a cash reward to individuals who report food safety violations (and whose claims are then confirmed). The Government Accountability Project's Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) has said before that the notion of rewarding whistleblowers within the food industry is a unique step that's not even an option in the United States. At the same time, however, it's a cautious move to equate the new incentive with better whistleblower protection, given China's history of punishing citizens who raise the alarm too loudly. One father whose son fell ill from milk contaminated with melamine in 2008 was sentenced to jail after campaigning for victim compensation. Other forms of punishment for whistleblowers in China have been wide-ranging over the years, and although the government is seemingly desperate to prevent more food scandals, its track record for securing freedom of speech rights is a poor one.