Critics Claim China’s Fledgling Organic Industry Is Plagued By Lax Standards

CBS4, Miami
Liv Davalos

MIAMI (CBS4) — It used to be that you could only find organc food in specialty health food stores. But that has changed as the organic industry is proving to be big business. Now, China is getting in on the action exporting millions of dollars of organic food to the United States. But in the wake of lead in toys and tainted toothpaste, many consumers are wondering just how organic anything from China can be.

Pinecrest Mom Ivy Milian decided to eat only organic foods about 18 years ago and has seen its popularity go mainstream. She usually shops at Wild Oats or Whole Foods and unlike some consumers, she always looks at the labels.

“I find it disturbing when I look at the package assuming it’s from the USA and it’s made in China,” said Milian.

In the wake of warnings about tainted toothpaste, poisoned pet food and toxic toys, all from China, this mom of three has her doubts about how truly “organic” produce grown in China can be.

“Just psychologically, I don’t feel as confident in food that is from China than from organics grown in the U.S.,” said Milian.

She’s not alone. California-based grocery store chain Trader Joe’s stopped offering some single-ingredient Chinese-grown food products like frozen organic spinach and garlic.

While Trader Joe’s says it believes food from China is safe, it decided to take that unusual step due to concern from customers.

Meantime, the organic industry continues to boom with big chains like Publix dedicating whole stores like this Greenwise store in Palm Beach Gardens only selling organic and natural foods.

In fact, in 2005, about $136-million worth of organic products were shipped overseas from China.

In Southwest Miami-Dade, Stan Glaser has been growing organic fruits and vegetables on his land for years now. “All this stuff was grown without any herbicides even though some are allowable under organic code,” said Glaser.

He runs a certified organic farm along with Tracy Fleming. They sell to local grocery stores, farmers markets and the public. And like many organic farms in the U.S., they also undergo strict inspections from certifiers with the USDA national organic program.

“If it’s in America, we actually are open to inspections from our own customers. Customers can come in and walk on the farm they trust that,” said Fleming.

That is one reason buying locally is important to many of Glaser Organic Farms’ customers. Another reason is just the concept of supporting local American farms that grow organic.

“You’re seeing family farms going by the wayside. Now we’re buying from China. We shouldn’t need to buy from China or anywhere outside the US,” she added.

According to Julio Perez an independent organic inspector, “Organic is not a movement anymore, it is an industry.” Perez certifies farms nationally and internationally.

He says consumers can be assured that farms in China have to undergo the same strict regulations as farms in the U.S. Otherwise, the United State Department of Agriculture certified organic seal would not be granted.

“They have to go through the same process in China, Russia and India. If you want to sell into the states, you have to be certified under NOP standards.

The best advice for consumers who are concerned about what they are eating or where it comes from is to read the labels, then decide whether to buy or not.

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