USDA Organics…from China?

When I purchase Spanish olives, I’m not surprised they’re from Spain. I’m not surprised when coffee is from Columbia, either. With the country of origin now mentioned on labels, I’ve often wondered about organic products from Mexico. That is until my friend, Charcie, sent me (and her email list) a link concerning organic food from China. China? I hadn’t noticed the China origin stamp on some organic foods. Now I’m REALLY concerned.

USDA Certified Organic
To earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification, the land must be free from prohibited substances such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, sewage sludge and other toxins as well as genetically modified organisms for at least three years.

If Nonna is grossed out, then Hannah says she’s grossed out, too!

Who Tracks Organic Farms?
I may have some reservations about “organic” food from Mexico, at least they’re close in proximity to the U.S. Organic acreage in Mexico is said to be monitored by the same American independent third-party certifying agency certifying the operations in the U.S. They are to follow the same Good Agricultural Practices on the farms in Mexico that we do on our farms in the U.S.

While I’m concerned about organic food from Mexico, I wouldn’t believe for a minute that any product from China is truly organic. I watched with interest Washington’s WJLA-TV’s expose on Youtube.

Reporter Roberta Baskin warns, “Buyer beware: When you buy food with a USDA organic label, do you know what you’re getting?” She has a point. The USDA organic label is supposed to mean something.

Foods sold in the U.S. must be approved by the Department of Agriculture before they can display the organic label. The U.S. doesn’t inspect imported foods or foreign farms. It certifies private inspectors to do the job. To complicate matters, the Chinese government does NOT allow foreigners to inspect Chinese farms. Therefore, an extra step is involved for oversight of organics from China. Chinese companies are allowed to inspect Chinese farms, so they subcontract with U.S. accredited agencies. Isn’t that like the fox guarding the hen house?

Organic Foods From China An Oxymoron
Linda Geer, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been to China. She was interviewed concerning Whole Foods stocking many organic items from China. She told WJLA, “There’s growing concern about the quality of food from China. Already this year the Food and Drug Administration, which checks for food safety, stopped 260 shipments of foods like strawberries contaminated with bad pesticides, bacteria or filth.”

The focus of WJLA’s investigation was Whole Foods, as it has 175 stores and is the nation’s first certified organic grocer. Baskin says, “Just because it’s sold at Whole Foods, doesn’t mean it’s organic, even if it has the USDA Certified Organic Label.”

Dozens of items WJLA found at Whole Foods were imported from China: primarily frozen vegetables: spinach, sugar snap peas, California Blend Vegetables, edamame (I think most edamame is from China, organic or not), asparagus spears as well as other items like peanut butters and pine nuts. How can organic frozen produce be less expensive than grown in the U.S.? In addition, they found that most of “Whole Foods salad bar and hot food bar are NOT organic.”

I don’t shop at Whole Foods, because we don’t have one in the town where I live. I usually get my organic foods at either Vitamin Cottage Natural Foods or Costco. Needless to say, I ran to my freezer and checked the organic items I purchased…they were from Washington, California and Oregon. Whew!

The country of origin isn’t always easy to locate on the package. While I was grocery shopping today, I checked the frozen veggie section at Natural Foods and Costco, since most of the “organic” items from China were found in frozen vegetables. I found that Cascadian Farms and Woodstock Farms uses produce from China in many of their items: Edamame, Asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, tri-cut peppers. All of the organic frozen vegetables and fruit I found at Costco were from the U.S. Red Mill Organic Quinoa, which I normally purchase at Costco, is from Bolivia. This is not a total surprise, because it grows well in high-altitude areas.

Grossed Out
I thought I was grossed out, until this morning when I read  Susan’s reply to Charcie’s email. Susan and her husband lived in Asia from 1992 to 1995. She said: “I can tell you about vegetables grown in China from my experience having lived there. They typically use night soil for fertilizer — this is human excrement. Westerner expats* like us only bought veggies imported from Australia, New Zealand, England, and the U.S. Occasionally, we could not get imported vegetables. If we bought Hong Kong/China grown veggies, we soaked them in water to which Clorox was added to disinfect. Secondly, the Chinese usually don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. A survey done while we were there revealed that they washed their hands ‘infrequently’.”
(*An expatriate or expat is a person temporarily residing in a country and culture other than their legal residence.)

It’s official. Now, I’m totally grossed out. YUCK-EEE!

You can read the Country of Origin for Whole food Market International Document. It’s interesting as “Do Not Distribute” tops their list. Click Here to download and read it yourself.

7 thoughts on “USDA Organics…from China?

  1. Carolyn says:

    I am soo annoyed about this. I LOVE spinach, and it is one of those organic products that only a few stores carry in my town, so I go out of my way to go get it. I am taking a Nutrition class right now and one of the former students in the class took a picture of the bag of Woodstock Organic Spinach and emailed it to the teacher. It said product of China. I was so appalled. I was also surprised that I never noticed this. So the other day in the store I was sure to check the Woodstock Organic Spinach. What it had on the bag was “Distributed by” and location, but it did not have where it was sourced. So now I am thinking food manufacturers don’t have to say where the product is from??? That is absolute BS. and there is no way I am trusting that “organic” spinach from China is actually organic. PLUS all the added energy costs shipping it here, etc. This sucks.

  2. tiger says:

    “organic chinese” is not racist. The fact is there are two types of morality in China. Morality that is applied to ones family and friends and a completely separate morality that is applied in business situations. The only morality that applies in business is maximizing profit. If telling a lie means making more money it isn’t wrong, it is business. Go and ask people who live in China and you’ll find this out that they don’t trust each other at all.

    Does everyone run a business with this type of morality in China? Probably not all but it certainly seems to be the norm.

    The problem isn’t isolated to China either. Machiavelli proposed a similar morality for politics in the west that many business leaders follow as well.

    Please stop being naive. I certainly wouldn’t believe a product from China labeled as organic was organic.

  3. John Latham says:

    China has committed 3 times as much land to organic farming than has the USA. China also has a 3000 year history of organic farming that has been the model for many new organic farms around the world. There are problems in maintaining standards in every country – including the USA – requiring constant oversight and diligence. It is rather small minded, unfair and faintly racist to make the assumption that Chinese organic is not “real”. The organic movement around the world is composed of many dedicated and conscientious individuals. Just because they don’t speak English and have slanted eyes does not give you, or anyone else, the right to automatically dismiss their efforts.

    • Nonna Joann says:

      John Latham’s “racist” claim is totally unfounded. After I wrote this post, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported on June 13 that employees of the Chinese government were being used to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities. China has been associated with countless food safety scandals. China has lax regulations and we have found much contaminated food, including milk coming from China. Of course we are aware of the toys coated in lead paint coming from China. Our food concerns have nothing to do with the “slant” of a person’s eyes or the color of a person’s skin. As parents we are concerned about the health and well-being of our children.

  4. Nonna Joann says:

    I found this in today’s (June 14) news:

    “According to the USDA, which certifies private organizations to inspect organic farms, a nonprofit Lincoln, Neb., group called Organic Crop Improvement Association improperly used Chinese government employees to inspect Chinese farms that use state-owned land to grow crops for export to the U.S. bearing the USDA’s organic seal.”

    Not only is the inspection for USDA Organic foods grown in China being done by the Chinese (not the U.S.)…it’s been using Chinese government employees. Incredible!

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