Does your Whole Foods 'organic' produce come from China?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Whole Foods, organic produce, China

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(NaturalNews) Most everyone who buys organic foods knows the benefits. While it can tend to be a little more expensive, it is at least pesticide free and much more wholesome.

But did you know that an increasing amount of our "organic" food may be coming from China (which immediately throws into question the organic labeling)? That could include some of your favorites from Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, which brands itself as the nation's organic foods leader.

WJLA, the ABC News affiliate in Washington, D.C., reported recently that the "leading food retailer selling the image that local and organic is better for the environment and better for you," but that may not be the product consumers are getting.

At more than 175 stores nationwide, Whole Foods promotes a homegrown concept, but, according to WJLA's investigation, many of the supermarket chain's goods are marked "Product of China."

What's wrong with that? Well; for one, importing food from China is anathema to Whole Foods' concept of "locally grown" and "organic." For another, China's agricultural development regulations are nowhere near as stringent as they are in the U.S. And finally, despite Whole Foods' assurances to the contrary, how is a consumer - or the company, for that matter - to know whether all of its Chinese-grown products are indeed pesticide-free?

Produces identified by the WJLA investigation marked as a "Product of China" included spinach, sugar snap peas and, ironically enough, a "California Blend" of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower - all under Whole Foods' "365 Organic" brand label. (Editor's note: Since the initial March 2012 investigative report by WJLA, Whole Food's "California Blend" of vegetables are now being grown again in the U.S.)

"Organic ensures pesticide-free, environmentally friendly conditions," said investigative reporter Roberta Baskin, who filed the report for WJLA's I-Team. "But how do we even know the food is organic?"

That's a good question.

Private inspectors, um, are inspecting, um, our food...

Food sold in the U.S. has to first be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can display the "organic" label, by regulation. That not only ensures it's safe but that it was grown in the manner advertised.

When it's grown 10,000 miles away, there's no way to ensure that. Moreover, USDA officials say food oversight in China is nothing like that in the United States.

But the agency, amazingly, does not inspect imported foods, certifying private inspectors to do that job for them.

For Whole Foods, that company is Qualify Foods International; as of the date of the report; however, QFI had not certified any foods in China, Baskins reported.

Instead, QFI said it relied on another certifier on the farms in China.

Despite these revelations, both QFI and the USDA both have organic certification labels on Whole Foods products grown in China.


"So then, you have to ask yourself the question, 'How would they ever know if the organic rules are being followed?'" Linda Greer, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Baskin in an interview.

Greer, who has been to Chinese farms, said, "I wouldn't buy something organic from China with the idea that it was truly organic."

Asked why, she explained, "The reason is because ... we've had such a difficult time tracking things."

No comment

And, the report said, there has been a growing level of concern regarding food grown in China. For instance, earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration, which checks for food safety in imported goods, stopped 260 shipments of foods like strawberries that were "contaminated with bad pesticides, bacteria or filth," Baskin said.

"I think it's probably not an accident that 'Product of China' is in such small type," Greer told Baskin in the interview.

No kidding.

The I-Team also turned up a "country of origin" product list from Whole Foods marked "Do Not Distribute," which listed the various countries from which the company was importing its products. China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, amount others, were seen on the list in the I-Team report.

Whole Foods declined to be interviewed for the report and instead gave a lame explanation that their foods are inspected by "third party" inspectors in China - though company officials wouldn't name that third party, the I-Team report said.


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