China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2011/Jul

If you do this to the least … you do it to me

Each day we read local and international news in the papers, on the Internet, in magazines and, of course, we hear it on radio and both hear and see it on television. It is good to keep up with events, but unfortunately, it seems that more bad news gets into the press than good.

Here in Hong Kong we have been reading about scandals in the last few years. One of the news items that shocked most people was the melamine milk scandal in 2008.

“Nationwide outrage about food safety erupted in 2008 when melamine-tainted baby formula sickened about 300,000 infants and took the lives of six children who had kidney stones and other kidney damage,” said a 30 May 2011 article in the Xinhua-China Daily.

Different chemicals

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical widely used in the production of plastics, including tableware and beverage containers. This has many dangers, especially when used in baby bottles, as often mothers put milk in the bottles and heat them before feeding their babies.

According to an official from China’s Ministry of Health, the heat makes it more likely that the BPA in the bottles will leech into the milk, which is potentially harmful. BPA is now understood to be an endocrine disruptor and experts say it could lead to the early sexual development of children and may cause cancer (China Daily, 1 June 2011).

Even toys can be a risk for children. On May 27, the Beijing administration published the results of tests on its website, which said that 20 of the 242 toys it picked at random from markets in Hebei, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Hubei and Guangdong did not meet national mandatory quality requirements.

Tests done on toys found that many contain heavy metals such as lead and chromium. These can cause chronic poisoning if they accumulate in the human body, according to Hu Xiaohong, a pediatrician at the No. 304 Hospital in Beijing (China Daily, 31 May 2011).

As is well known, babies and young children tend to bite on things like painted toys or metal things in their environment and these heavy metals and paints are unseen threats to the health of children, which parents may not be aware of.

It is good to know that the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in Beijing is publishing its findings and alerting the public.

Staying with children, even their shoes and bicycles are being inspected. In one sample, 17.5 per cent of the sampled shoes and 20 per cent of the bicycles were found to have safety problems, such as excessive formaldehyde and poor durability.

Here again we find the chemical, Phthalate, which is used in some products like plastics to increase flexibility, transparency and durability. The poor quality of the toys can also lead to accidents, such as cuts and bruises, with the possibility of broken limbs. There has been public outrage over the lack of restrictions on the use of chemicals in children’s products, which is forcing the government to rewrite rules on toxicity in toys.

Additives in many foods and medicines are being examined. These are often used in rice and in food processing as well as flavouring. Government and health authorities in China want them to be listed clearly on the packaging of food and medicines with a clear explanation and warnings that the product may cause allergies.

Food additives are one of the main reasons for the sharp rise in the number of people with malignant lymphoma cancer, according to some experts.

China’s health authorities are tightening their supervision on food producers after a series of scandals where additives were found in steamed buns dyed with unidentified chemicals, in cases where reclaimed cooking oil, known as gutter oil was used, in poisonous bean sprouts, inked vermicelli, dyed peppers, beverages and even in pigs.

It is summertime now and everyone enjoys watermelon, but here too, we see that some farmers have added the growth hormone, forchlorfenuron, causing them to crack open and burst from growing too much too soon; so they can no longer be sold. It looks like greed might have been a motive for not letting nature do what it does best.

Justice and greed

Reading about all these scandals led me to do some research about justice and greed. Greed is an excessive desire for something, like making more money in whatever way that suits a person; justice deals with fairness and doing what is right.

The Old and New Testaments have much to say about greed and justice, which has been dealt with throughout the ages.

The prophets sharply criticised the people of God for their injustice and idolatry, and warned of horrendous consequences should they not repent. The lingering relevance of these warnings may lie especially in the sense they give of a society that has allowed God’s concerns for human social life to be defied.

These concerns of generosity, compassion and justice for all in the society had been part of the foundation of the ancient Hebrew nation. They reflect God’s concerns for all societies. When any society allows itself to sink into inequality, greed and injustice, this can threaten the life of the society.

In Amos we read, “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land; in the market skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat” (Amos 8:4-6).

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

“Your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion” (Jeremiah 22:17).

A central concern for Isaiah, Amos and Hosea was to challenge the injustices of the people and plead for them to turn back, or repent.

Jesus inaugurated a reign of justice, which is contrary to human justice. It is not a distributive justice, in which God’s determination and commitment to come to the aid of all who are oppressed is realised.

It is a justice which fulfills God’s purpose of grace… one biased in favour of those who are wretched, deprived, poor and needy. In short, God’s justice is love in action.

Catholic social teaching

Our present day Catholic social teaching consists of those aspects of doctrine which relate to matters dealing with the collective aspect of humanity. A distinctive feature of the social doctrine is its concern for the poorest members of society. Two of the seven key areas of Catholic social teaching are pertinent to social justice:

Life and dignity of the human person:

The foundational principle of all Catholic social teaching is the sanctity of all human life and the inherent dignity of every human person. Human life must be valued above all material possessions.

Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable:

Catholics believe Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgement, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Church believes that through words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with and compassion for the poor. The moral test of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. People are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor.

Even before it was propounded in the Catholic social doctrine, social justice appeared regularly in the history of the Church. Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), rejected both socialism and capitalism while defending labour unions and private property.

He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. The pope advocated that the role of the state was to promote social justice through the protection of rights, while the Church must speak out on social issues in order to teach correct social principles and ensure class harmony.

The 2006 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), by Pope Benedict XVI, claims that justice is the defining concern of the state and the central concern of politics and not of the Church, which has charity as its central social concern.

It said that the laity has the specific responsibility of pursuing social justice in civil society and that the Church’s active role in social justice should be to inform the debate, using reason and natural law and by also providing moral and spiritual formation for those involved in politics.

Children need extra protection

I have focussed on children in our society. How can a producer of goods want to hurt innocent children? What should we be doing to correct these injustices?

We could get involved with organisations or groups that work to protect children from all kinds of abuse. We have seen and read about babies, and the poor and needy being cheated by those who are greedy and defraud the people by producing dangerous goods.

To paraphrase Matthew 18:6, Jesus sternly admonishes those who would mistreat children: it would be better for them to drown in the depths of the sea. We, as Christians, must read, be disturbed by these headlines and act on them in some way.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).