Thursday, July 15, 2010

Product of China - "Organic" Foods

Consumers who carefully check the origin of foods in their local markets, including organic foods, are more often discovering "Product of China" on the packages.

Permit me to tell you a bit about food production in China so you can better determine if there is reason for concern.

Farms operate under the strictest guidelines. Foods may not be genetically modified and must meet international food standards.

Organic tea comes from the foothills of Tibet and is fresh, tender and flavorful. On the grasslands of Inner Mongolia hormone-free beef is produced. Rice is grown from specially cultivated seeds by experts from the Jilin Academy of Agricultural Sciences and is watered by the melted mountain snow of Mt. Changbai.

These food products, which meet the highest standards are certified and stamped with a “Nation A” label.

That sounds fine, doesn’t it? Is that the organic food that's exported to the U.S.?

No, silly.

Is that the food that is available to the Chinese people?

No silly, I’ve been describing the special food supply, reserved for high level Chinese officials.

Are you now wondering why important officials in China might want and need their own secure and restricted food supply?

Are you wondering that if the absolute best, safest and finest food products are reserved for the Chinese elite, then what grade food is exported to the U.S.?

I'll address those questions.

Let me tell you about one basic food product that is made in China – cooking oil. (You may find the following information somewhat indelicate.)

Restaurants in China have waste tanks and cooking oil is siphoned from the raw sewage in those waste tanks. That tainted oil is then refined and resold.

As you would expect such an oil product contains toxins namely carcinogenic Aflatoxins. Since tainted and toxic recycled sewage oil sells for one half the price of untainted oil, oil producers in China blend the toxic oil with uncontaminated oil to increase their profit margins.

China consumes about 22.5 million tons of cooking oil per year which includes about 2 to 3 million tons of waste oil.

If this is what is produced in China for the consumption of the Chinese people, how much care do you suppose is taken with products that are exported to the U.S.?

In 2008 China experienced a problem with melamine in dairy products. (Melamine mimics protein when tested.) A few children died and hundreds of thousands suffered from kidney disorders. Recently, the problem arose again and Chinese authorities seized about 64 tons of raw dairy materials.

Farmers in China feed their dairy cows low quality feed. That inferior feed leads to low levels of protein in the milk, hence the introduction of melamine so the milk will meet the required minimum protein level.

Despite prohibitions of melamine in dairy products, dairy producers still use melamine. You can see that the authorities in China have a problem.

So, how might the authorities in China address the problem?


Since it occurs to no one in China that perhaps dairy cows need better feed so their milk will contain more protein, the Chinese government has instead lowered the minimum protein level for dairy products to discourage the use of melamine.

See, the problem is all fixed.

At this point I have to admit, that as an American manufacturer I would never have conceived such a remedy for this problem, never.

The U.S. and China both produce chicken, yet China imports chicken from the U.S. and we import chicken from China. At a glance that seems ridiculous until you consider that there must be a material difference in the products from both countries.

Do you suppose that the U.S. produced chicken qualifies for a "Nation A" label?

When you shop your local market and you stumble upon food products, including organics, that are a product of China, you are also likely to notice the familiar USDA logo as well as other logos on the packaging.

Shouldn’t you, the consumer be able to find certainty and peace of mind in the certifications you find on packaging?

That would be nice but it’s not exactly possible and I’ll explain.

The USDA inspects food that is produced in the U.S. but it does not inspect imported foods. Unfortunately, the USDA certifies private inspection companies which may not be located in the U.S. Those companies may or may not certify food products from China. If they don’t inspect food in China which is possible and likely, then they rely on the certification from an inspector – wait for it – located on the farms themselves in China.

And those inspectors are paid by whom?

That inspector certifies the supposedly organic products to the middleman who certifies the supposedly organic products to the USDA and everyone’s logo and certification goes onto the packaging.

This is the process which enables everyone in the chain from the farmer in China to your grocer to pretend that a food product from China is safe and possibly organic.

This brings me to a recent email I received from a visitor to our site. From time to time I receive emails from folks who wish to share with me, their displeasure of foreign made products.

I read the emails, nod in agreement and reply.

The writer shared with me information about a fine fresh food product, found in my own refrigerator but the producer unfortunately licensed their brand name to another company who exports the U.S. product to China.

Goodness knows I most certainly support U.S. exports, so this isn't necessarily unwise, except in this situation. The food product is then supposedly made into candy and shipped back to the U.S. packaged with a familiar and trusted brand name.

The person who wrote to me had sound concerns about what possible contaminants could be introduced in China during the candy making process while I wondered if U.S. product ever actually made it into the candy. 

A food product suitable for my own refrigerator is one I consider “Nation A” grade.

Mary - web person for