USDA Organics…from China?By Nonna Joann • Jun 10th, 2010 • Category: What's in a Label?
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.
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.
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