Multiple reports have exposed conventional foods manufactured in China as fake and even toxic: scams involving rice that contains plastic, fake eggs made from chemicals and many food items containing high levels of arsenic.
Now that country-of-origin labeling has been removed by Congress (for meat anyway), and companies are struggling to find new sources of food to meet the growing demand for organics in the United States, it’s becoming more likely that your organic food could come from China or other countries rather than U.S. farmers.
According to a 2017 report from Food Safety News, up to 80 percent of organic food eaten in America was imported, with Turkey and China the two rising sources for organic food during the Obama administration, which increased spending for the USDA’s National Organic Program but also greatly supported the GMO food industry at the same time, and oversaw a decline in certified organic standards.
Growth of organic farming in the U.S. has increased in many ways, but the concern remains. Considering the country’s overall level of pollution and shocking lack of standards compared with the U.S., that could be a serious problem. Here are six reasons why:
1. Organic Products from China Can Contain an Unlimited Amount of Heavy Metals
While certified organic does mean that the producer cannot add pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and other toxins when growing the produce, there are no rules about the outside environmental factors such as pollution.
A farmer in China can use water with mercury or chemicals on the crops and keep the organic label. Since many parts of China have been experiencing extreme pollution (to the point that some have been buying canned air out of desperation), a lot of its water is heavily polluted. But the lack of traceability in comparison to U.S. organic farms means you’ll have a hard time finding out any more information on how it was grown.
China accounts for half of all pesticide use in the world according to a 2020 report in The Conversation, hinting that pesticide drift on organic products is a concern. Over-application of fertilizer use in China, which uses four times more fertilizer per unit area than the global average, could also be contaminating food products from the China according to the same article, which said that the practice could be causing additional chemical residues in food as well as nitrogen infiltration into groundwater.
China uses about 2.5 times the world average for chemical use per acre on its non-organic farms, even as China positions itself as a world leader in organic food production.
2. China Has Lax Environmental Regulations
Lack of regulation has caused the country to experience record air pollution in Beijing, and studies have shown that at least 40% of rivers are polluted, as well as 90% of groundwater, reported The Guardian in 2013.
The water has been recorded as being so polluted that around that same time, an eyeglass-retailer executive dared a local environmental protection chief Bao Zhenming to swim in a river for 20 minutes for more than £20,000. Bao declined.
This is the same water source that may be used to water the “organic” crops.
While China has improved in some areas in recent years, major concerns remain. Daily measurements of fine particles in the air are often 20 to 50 times higher than what the World Health Organization recommends according to this list of concerns.
3. Agencies and Government Departments in China — Are They Doing Their Jobs?
Guangzhou Daily reported that when one consumer wanted to inform someone about fake organic produce, they were bounced between four government departments before finding out that none of them had the authority to deal with this problem, according to The Epoch Times, an independent source of news from China.
At the same time the USDA is trying to keep track of all the shipments coming from China but they have reported that several shipments of organic beans and berries were full of unsafe pesticides in past years. Whichever agency on the Chinese side approved the shipment was not following regulations.
Reports have also stated that numerous Chinese food growers may sometimes buy organic certification paperwork illegally and then grow foods in a non-organic way.
4. Supplements and Herbs from China Are Often Contaminated with Lead
Because many herbs have detoxifying properties, they absorb heavy metals easily. It has been tested, for example, that chlorella from China was most contaminated with aluminum, and also contained arsenic, cadmium and lead.
Although not organic, many conventional green tea companies have illegally used banned chemicals, as reported by Greenpeace. Can it happen to organic tea? – It might, because organic certification in China cannot be trusted.
5. Corruption: Suppliers Have Forged Organic Certification Labels and Other Documents
Rumors about companies in China forging documents have been around for years. And in 2011 USDA released evidence of a fraudulent organic certificate made by a non-certified company. The firm used this fake certification to pass non-organic soy, millet and buckwheat as organic, according to the Cornucopia, the nation’s farming watchdog.
6. Organic Products in China are Highly Questionable
The agency in charge of certifying organics in China is The Chinese Organic Certification Center (COFCC). However there has been concern in the past of a lack of certification of its products, as many 30% of products.
Though organic products imported to the U.S. are supposed to be certified by a USDA certifier, there are not enough certifiers to meet the need, and the USDA relies on hiring third party certifiers in China. On at least one occasion the certifier from China provided the paperwork but did not physically confirm that the organic food complied with the organic regulations.
Until more comprehensive regulations are enforced in China, and the country resolves its pollution problem, it might be wise to avoid food from China altogether, even if it has the “organic” stamp on it. Because even if it was not forged, it might not mean a whole lot considering the country’s dire environmental situation.
A Chinese farmer named Xia Hanbing was interviewed in 2018 and said that it was nearly impossible to grow organic food on his farm, and for other farmers nearby.
“Certifying and accrediting organic food has become a business,” Xia said to SixthOne.com.
“With the certification process so often going through third parties with their own commercial interests, it has become a stamp of approval for the food producer itself, rather than for its products.”
“A lot of this has to do with the fact that Chinese consumers have more faith in the ‘organic’ label if it appears to have come from an international authority,” he added.
Chinese “Organics” at Whole Foods?
According to a 2008 investigation by a news station in Washington, D.C., Whole Foods in particular has sold a large amount of organic products from China. The company’s organic “California Blend” even came from the country, before this investigation came out and forced Whole Foods to change.
Whole Foods said in 2010 that it stopped sourcing frozen veggies from China in its own line of products, except for edamame.
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