China Goes Organic (Well, Sort Of)

I can almost hear the refrain at my local Chinese dive in Chicago. "Hey, could you adds some extra MSG ... no, not the usual stuff. I want the organic kind." Well, even if MSG never goes organic, it appears that some other Chinese food imports are heading in that direction. According to an article in the sensationalist New York Sun "consumers turning to organic food in the wake of warnings about antifreeze-laden toothpaste, poisoned pet food, and antibiotic-laced fish may be in for a surprise. The same country blamed for those scares, China, is quietly muscling in on the organic market. Upscale grocery chains like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods now import popular organic snack such as edamame and canned staples such as kidney beans from China."

At first glance, the fact China is getting into the organic market seems perfectly reasonable. After all, they're only chasing a trend that is gaining favor -- and producing higher margin products -- on the world grocery stage. But how organic are their products, really? The article notes that while "organic produce imported from China carries the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic logo and is certified by private firms authorized to approve use of the label" shipments still might still contain pesticides because "federal rules establishing the organic certification do not include routine testing for pesticide contamination."

As we all know in global sourcing efforts, first article testing is not enough to insure the same levels of quality overtime. So next time you pay extra for that organic edamame in Whole Foods, think twice about whether or not it's really worth it. After all, a food producer which is certified as organic but does not submit to frequent testing of its products because it's not required to could easily skirt corners. And this is true regardless of whether they're based in China or somewhere else in the world.

Jason Busch

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