Fraudulent organics from China spell safety hazards for U.S. consumers

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by: Daniel Erickson
Tags: China, organic produce, health news

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(NaturalNews) Three years ago, Chinese baby formula tainted with Melamine caused the death of six infants and over 300,000 serious injuries. After initially suppressing the information, the Chinese government made a grand gesture of eradicating the problem. The company was shut down. Some executives were even put to death. The epidemic, however, was not.

The scandal reared its head earlier this year, when the product line was placed back into circulation in China. Innumerable parents stood helplessly by as their toddlers developed kidney stones caused by the same Melamine-laced formula that they had hoped to consider a notorious and dark part of their country's history.

Many citizens in China are only too aware of the food safety issues that are still rampant in their country. Verna Yu, a writer in Hong Kong, reported to the New York Times a brief history of the health issues that have plagued Chinese food safety, placing the scandal in a nightmarish context: "...there had been plenty of food scares floating around: The fake baby formula killed 12 babies in 2004, the carcinogenic food-coloring that found its way into many food products in 2005, not to mention fake eggs, fake vaccines and flour tainted with powdered lime."

Many consumers in the US, however, do not understand how these food safety problems might affect their own families, and organic produce is one of the most significant potential hazards. Currently, the US imports 80% of its organic produce, the vast majority of which hails from Mexico, Brazil, and China. So people who try to avoid artificial fertilizers and insecticides by making organic purchases are likely to eat food from China. Ironically, the people who think they are safest from harm are actually closest to it.

A number of incidents this year have alerted the organics-consuming public to possibility of food contamination. Among them was a discovery on February 11, when the USDA uncovered a Chinese company exporting inferior products under the pristine guise of the organic label. Among the goods, which had been produced using non-organic means, was a shipment of ginger that had been heavily dusted with a dangerous pesticide, called aldicarb.

Even in small portions, aldicarb can leave consumers with nausea and blurred vision. But in high doses, it can be deadly - the respiratory system seizes up entirely, leaving the victim unable to breathe. This batch would not have even qualified for the non-organic market, due to the excessive amounts of the noxious chemical. Fortunately this time, the USDA was lucky to have caught the problem before it entered the US food markets.

Miraculous would be the word to use, as the Chinese company was caught - not because the ginger failed to pass any sort of inspection, but due to its counterfeit documents. Rather than being sent to one of the certification entities in China to receive its documentation, its papers had been forged, citing Ecocert as its certifying entity. Ecocert, a USDA accredited certification company, had notified the USDA of the lie.

This shipment was not caught because it was aldicarb-dusted and potentially lethal. It was caught because it was fraudulent in the wrong way. Currently, there are no tests for organic produce being imported to the US, yet Americans still trust the organic label. Mischa Popoff, author of Is it Organic? states "because of the US government lack of objective standards, consumers of organic food have a big sign on their foreheads that says, 'I'll buy anything if it says organic.'"

Organic suppliers are required to describe their activities on a daily basis. When an organic certifying agency, such as Ecocert, looks at the list of tasks performed to bring the crop to market, it looks for non-organic methods, such as fertilizer, etc. So, the ginger-supplier could have simply written down an organic pesticide, and any certifying agency would have blindly given them the stamp of approval. There would have been no way to stop the shipment from being placed neatly under the sign "Organic ginger."

Mr. Popoff points out the terrifying possibility that few have the courage to voice: "It's about knowing human nature. If they caught aldicarb, there is every reason to believe this was just the tip of the iceberg." If Chinese companies will feed Melamine to their own country, what is stopping them here?

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