Fake “Organic” Food From China Is FLOODING Store Shelves — Here’s What You Need To Know:

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Fake Organic Food From China Is FLOODING Store Shelves
image 1 – Maxpixel (PD) image 2 © humphery – shutterstock.com

Consumers demand for all things “organic” has skyrocketed for the past decade. More people are going for organically grown food as a healthy and nutritious option to conventionally grown vegetables and fruits. Due to increased demand, domestic producers are struggling to meet the appetite for healthy and safe produce. This situation has prompted many grocers and food vendors to look internationally to keep their businesses stocked.

U.S. Organic Fruits And Vegetable Imports

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, U.S. imports of fruits and vegetables in 2015 [1] were worth $17.6 billion. Some of the major imported products were tomatoes, peppers, bananas, potatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers, melon, citrus, and grapes. In descending order, the leading supplying countries were Mexico, Canada, Chile, the European Union, China, Peru, and Costa Rica.

U.S. organic imports equaled $1.65 billion in 2016. [2] Bananas, coffee, and olive oil, which the U.S. does not produce in large quantities, are top organic imports. The country also bought corn and soybeans to meet the growing demand for organic livestock feed. Other imported organic products were almonds, apples, avocado, banana, bell peppers, garlic, mangoes, and pears.

Imports From China And Food Safety Issues

Some U.S companies go to China for cheaper organic ingredients instead of purchasing from North American farmers. China is the U.S.’ third largest source of food imports, according to a 2009 report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service. The U.S. imports organic soybeans, rice, and other grains as well as frozen vegetables and fruit concentrate from China that all make their way into processed foods which wind up on store shelves at supermarkets. However, food imports from China were fraught with peril, [3] says the ERS.

In February 2011, the Department of Agriculture released evidence of attempted fraud by a Chinese organic agricultural marketer. [4] An uncertified supplier in China used a counterfeit certificate to represent non-organic soybeans, millet, and buckwheat as certified organic.

The Cornucopia Institute published a research paper [5] in 2009 that raised concerns about organic soybeans imported from China. The study explained why imported organic products cannot always be trusted. It urged importers to consider domestically sourced organic soybeans.

The safety of organic food from China was also questioned by a 2011 article that highlighted the food safety issues that hounded China’s domestic food industry – including the melamine scandal. [6]

In 2012, a notice issued jointly by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the State Administration for Industry & Commerce, and Certification and Accreditation Administration [7] confirmed the prevalence of substandard organic food business. The article reported on the government’s attempt to crack down on illegal activities such as certification misuse and counterfeiting of organic food products.

Major Issues With China’s Organic Produce

1. Falsely labeled organic foods do not all come from China, but the situation there is regarded as murkier than just about anywhere. Fraudulent labeling is a common practice in the Chinese food manufacturing industry. The involvement of many government agencies in the food production chain has made the situation worse. When scandals taint the industry, the government’s tendency is to cover them up. Transparency in the organic farming sector remains questionable.

2. China suffers dire environmental pollution due to its rapid but largely unregulated industrial growth. Industrial wastewater releases heavy metals such as lead and cadmium which contaminate the country’s soil and water resources. [8] The USDA – unbelievably – is yet to set a limit on heavy metal contamination for organic labeling. It only has a system that certifies a process in which no harmful pesticides or fertilizers can be added when growing organic crops.

3. The U.S. and China have no equivalency in organic standards and certification. China is yet to recognize foreign organic standards, so there is a possibility of discrepancies between what chemicals and agricultural practices are allowed in Chinese organic produce and those used by American growers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the limit for pesticide residue on food. [9]

4. The Chinese Organic Certification Center is in charge of certifying organic produce in China. However, the agency inspects only one-third of organic products while the rest are done by third-party vendors, NGOs, and individual inspectors. The certification process is also costly and time-consuming. [10]

5. Chinese authorities have implemented measures [11] to control food export safety by certifying exporters and the farms that supply them. However, monitoring such a wide range of products for different hazards remains a difficult challenge for Chinese and U.S. officials.


[1] Renée Johnson. (2016). The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2016). U.S. organic exports of selected products, quarterly and annual, 2011-16. https://www.ers.usda.gov/media/9152/organictradequarterlyannual2016.xlsx

[3] Lam H et. al. (2013). Food Supply and Food Safety Issues in China. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3888022/

[4] Western Farm Press. (2011). USDA uncovers scheme to import fake Chinese organic food. http://www.westernfarmpress.com/management/usda-uncovers-scheme-import-fake-chinese-organic-food

[5] Cornucopia Institute. (2009). Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry. https://www.cornucopia.org/soysurvey/OrganicSoyReport/behindthebean_color_final.pdf

[6] Sarah Elton. (2011). Is organic food from China safe? http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/greener-pastures/

[7] China Daily. (2012). State cracking down on organic food fraud. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/03/content_15203108.htm

[8] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Food and Pesticides. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides

[9] David A. Taylor. (2008). Recovering the Good Earth: China’s Growing Organic Market. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2516578/

[10] Gabriella Padgett. (2015). China Grows Organic. http://scholar.smu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=upjournal_research

[11] Fred Gale, Jean C. Buzby. (2009). Imports from China and Food Safety Issues. https://books.google.com.ph/books/about/Imports_from_China_and_Food_Safety_Issue.html?id=W2OE7dQCW7IC&redir_esc=y

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  • By Richard, February 15, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

    The picture you used with this post is misleading. It shows fresh produce when it’s clear from the article the issue is with ingredients for processed foods and some frozen. You must know as I do that a majority of people don’t read the article and get their impressions from headlines and pictures. As a new organic farmer it’s already difficult enough to gain trust from the public. You’re not helping.

  • By admin, February 15, 2019 @ 9:45 pm

    On the contrary, by highlighting the problems with imported produce of unknown origin, I believe we are encouraging people to buy locally grown organic produce.

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