Meet The New Powerhouse In Organic Foods: China!

That certified organic edamame you bought from the local supermarket may have been made and packaged in China. The exporting juggernaut is quickly and quietly muscling in on the thriving global trade in certified organic products. Organic exports from China are certified by private companies and carry the official USDA organic logo. The logo, however, does not guarantee that products are truly organic:

From the New York Sun:

“Fraudulent products can be found everywhere in China,” an Agriculture Department report on organics noted last year. “Most of the [Chinese] consumers interviewed said they didn’t buy and would not buy organic because they don’t trust labels or certifications.”

Still, organic produce typically sells in China for three to five times the price of conventional produce, the report found. That differential increases the incentive for fraud.

In addition, while a farmer in America or Europe can be fairly confident that a fertilizer or pesticide he buys is what it purports to be, even a well-intentioned Chinese farmer cannot be so sure. A weed-killer billed as all natural might be a potent chemical.

The problems with certified organic products are not limited to China. Stateside activists often ridicule the USDA organic standards as ineffective at best, deceptive at worst. Strengthening the standards is the first step towards securing the integrity of certified organic food, but one that won’t likely be realized because of organized opposition from American agribusiness. The weak standards present an almost irresistible opportunity to the same elusive companies responsible for the Chinese Poison Train.

Just because a product is not truly organic does not mean it is dangerous, but the organic label alone does not mark a product as a chemical-repelling beacon of wellness.

China Quietly Muscles In on the Organic Food Market [NY Sun]


Edit Your Comment

  1. If you’re trying to buy organic, you shouldn’t be buying prepackaged food anyway.

    Try a farmers market, or loose unfrozen vegetables grown in the USA.

    The book “The Omnivores Dillemma” is a good read for anyone interested in post-organic food.

  2. redknight says:

    Just another reason to visit your local farmers market. Even if the food there isn’t organic, you at least know its fresh, and you support your local farmers.

  3. ancientsociety says:

    It should also be pointed out that one of the problems with the USDA “Organic” standard is that it costs thousands of dollars to become certified. Usually the only businesses that can afford the expense are either corporations or multinationals.

    Small, local producers usually can’t get certified (which can affect their growth, profit, and marketability) because of the prohibitive up-front costs involved, even though they may meet the exacting standards.

    @krylonultraflat: Beat me to it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’d say most of the food I consume is carbon-based, whether it’s labeled “organic” or not.

  5. bnet41 says:

    Not everyone has farmers markets easily available. Where I am from in Ohio we had huge produce operations around us, but it was all shipped out. You could buy some corn or something at the corner stand, but nothing like a real farmers market.

  6. Thrust says:

    Organic is for suckers anyways, so Meh!

  7. Jiminy Christmas says:

    Shopping at a co-op is a good alternative. The good ones look into the products before they even make it onto the shelves; thereby doing much of your homework for you.

  8. MeOhMy says:

    We use only pure, grass-fed, free-range, pesticide- and hormone-free melamine in our products.

  9. SaveMeJeebus says:

    I’d rather eat a Thomas train than organic shit from China.

  10. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    Arsenic is organic too.

  11. AtomikB says:

    @Jaysyn: Literally speaking, organic molecules are carbon-based molecules. Arsenic contains no carbon, my friend.

  12. Consumer-X says:

    China can’t keep melamine and anti freeze out of their export food supply so you know this whole organic thing is going to kick their ass.

  13. SkimLatte says:

    Serves the idiots who actually BUY organic products right. Get a freaking grip.

  14. TechnoDestructo says:


    A lot of people aren’t really capable of wrapping their minds around places that aren’t like where they live.

    California seems to be one of the worst like that…and what with the availability of farmer’s markets there (something like 80 percent of the US’s fresh produce comes from California) I think that’s a good guess as to where the “go to a farmer’s market!” folks are coming from.

    Hell, I still think it’s weird to have multiple cities, with distinct governments, abutting one another with no unincorporated rural area in between.

  15. Art Vandelay says:

    Does organic all weather coolant exist?

  16. Art Vandelay says:

    @TechnoDestructo: No, not really. Here in Central Texas and even in East Texas there are farmer’s markets. You just have to ask around or look for one.

  17. bohemian says:

    We have a local farmers market, a food co-op and grow some of our own produce. Most of the booths at the farmers market are not officially organic but use organic practices. They have become better at listing if they do not use pesticides, are “near organic” ie: use organic practices but are not certified.
    There is a pretty simple checklist for buying something hopefully less nasty or toxic.
    1. Was in made in the US, Canada or Europe?
    2. Is it a non processed food?
    3. Is it organic or something close?

    You get bonus points if it is local or you know the person who grew it.

  18. rhombopteryx says:


    One of the other problems with the USDA “organic” label is that it doesn’t actually mean organic. Like the earlier Consumerist article says, the USDA has been so bought off by lobbyists that it is actually passing regulations that say “the following non-organic foods can be labeled organic anyway.” Literally! Your organic blueberry juice, hey, it can have non-organic blueberry juice in it. It’s all good.

  19. Rusted says:

    Food is organic. Otherwise we would be having granite flacks instead of corn flakes……

    Silliest thing heard yet…”Is this banana organic?”

    I’m thinking, “Does it look like a rock?”

  20. formergr says:

    I often buy prepackaged certified organic food. Not because I’m concerned whether it’s actually organic, pesticide-free, etc, but because it’s usually less processed and doesn’t contain HFCS (I always check the ingredients first.

    My produce, on the other hand, I try to buy at a farmer’s market just about every weekend.

  21. shoegazer says:

    Like “carbon off-setting”, “organic” is another of those positive labels companies use to part fools from their money. It amuses me whenever somebody buys organic carrots at twice the price of regular ones (in the UK).

    The “farmers’ market” folks here are right. The only way to ensure your food is pesticide- and additive-free is by buying from the source.

    I dislike the term “sheeple”, but it always comes to mind whenever I see these oh so trendy labels and the idiots who buy them. I’ve even seen “organic” frozen pizza, WTF.

  22. ancientsociety says:

    @rhombopteryx: Hmmm, hadn’t seen that article, thanks!

  23. camas22 says:

    maybe there would be a farmer’s market near you if you didn’t take the the “save money by moving to a lame state where no one else wants to live so prices are lower” post to heart

  24. @TechnoDestructo and @bnet41:

    Yeah, I know not everyone has access to a farmers market. Parts of my home state of Florida are like that. You’d think with 10 gazillion oranges grown there, I might be able to buy one that isn’t shipped from California. But with the exception of a few sold from boutique stores and at tourist stops, nearly all of them get sent to the juicer. I read once that the fact that California oranges have thicker skins means they’re easier to ship, even though Florida oranges taste much, much better. But I digress.

    California and the Northeast seem to be the hotbeds for local food. I’m currently outside D.C. and have tons of options (and in fact am going Saturday morning to get some fruit for Sangria).

    While you might not have a farmer’s market in walking distance, there are tons of resources for finding farmers markets. I’d be willing to bet you both live reasonably close to one. Try here:

    Anyhoo, my other point remains pretty clear though: you really shouldn’t be buying pre-cooked vegetables that come in boxes.

  25. PatBateman says:

    I’m a little late on this post but…
    My cousin is an organic farmer in upstate NY, but she previously worked on organic farms in Chile, Italy, Mexico, and a few on the US west coast. She said that basically if you want true organic food, it can only be found domestically. Everywhere else, organic laws and oversight are nearly non-existant, and on top of that, anything that arrives at US ports for eating will DEFINITELY be fumigated. And she was talking about Chile and Italy … I’ve noticed recently that even the almighty Trader Joe’s carries organic Chinese products (I bought pumpkin seeds there that came from the red state).

  26. Allroads says:

    What is organic? What are the certifications a field, a product, or a process must go through to be organic?

    In China, this definition is vastly different from that in the U.S. or the E.U., and that is one of the major hurdles that Chinese products will face (or at least should face).

    while working on a project recently, we found that many Chinese consumers did not trust the green labeling system, and no doubt, the average American consumer is going to trust these products even less.

    From what we learned, the fundamental problems lie in the fact that to get the green label, there are no ongoing audits and as a result a number of “organic farms” will revert to old ways.. and through various ways this will be exposed.

    In addition, the initial seal of approval does not consider the soil at all. It is simply a certification for the ongoing processes (keep in mind yearly audits are not performed).

    all this aside, after living in China for 6 years I have only had food poisoning once (at a foreign restaurant), and I have consumed fruit and veg off the street without washing on a fairly consistent basis.

    Global food chains are necessary in today’s economies because the consumers in America want their star fruits, exotic fishes, and other food items on a regular basis. They want them fresh, and until a couple weeks ago, they wanted them cheap.

    Labeling is good idea, but a good wash of your apples is better… after all, who wants to risk the fact that the label (made in China) may be using an industrial glue rather than the FDA approved one???

  27. girly says:

    Are Costco’s Hillandale Farms Organic Eggs from China? They are “distributed” by Hillandale Farms of Pennsylvania.