With more and more people learning about the importance of eating healthy and safe produce, consumer demand for all things “organic” has skyrocketed. In the US alone, annual organic food sales have grown by 20% and the increased demand is significantly outpacing domestic supplies, forcing many grocers and food vendors to look internationally to keep their businesses stocked. Most of these organic imports are grown in the European Union, where organic standards are weaker than those of the US. However, many of these “organic” products are from China, whose food industry standards for safety and quality are notoriously low. Much of this “organic” produce grown in China is so unsafe, that the farmers who grow it won’t eat it themselves. Isn’t that the whole point of choosing organic in the first place?
It turns out that much of the food labelled “organic” was never grown with the intention of being organic, but rather as a means to circumvent China’s reputation for substandard produce. US Customs personnel often reject entire shipments of food from China due to the addition of dangerous and unsavory additives, the presence of drug residues, mislabeling, or the poor hygienic state of the food. In an effort to get around these bulk rejections of food, some Chinese food exporters have taken to labeling their products “organic,” especially those foods that appear dirty or unusual. In addition, the “organic” label in China has no meaning as collusion between the government and manufacturers has led to rampant mislabeling, and China’s government has no established system for determining what is or is not organic.
Even if “organically grown” food from China was in fact that, the quality of the water used in the production of food intended for export is so contaminated that a person could fall ill just by handling it. Much of China’s industrial-scale agriculture is found along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, both of which are extremely polluted. This is because thousands upon thousands of Chinese factories also line these same rivers, adding their chemical waste to the same water used to irrigate the country’s food supply. In one such recent case, a chemical fertilizer plant dumped such excessive amounts of ammonia into the Fu river, a tributary of the Yangtze river, that an estimated 110 tons of dead fish had to be removed. However, the ammonia-laden river continued to be used for industrial and agricultural use.
Other chemicals and heavy metals have been found in very high and unsafe amounts in these rivers, as well as the food produced with that water. Perchlorate, a precursor to rocket fuel, has been found in China’s sewage as well as its rice, bottled drinking water, and milk. It is throughout the entire water supply and contaminate any would-be organic produce. Perchlorate is an endocrine-disruptor and is also toxic. It can cause improper regulation of the metabolism, thyroid problems, as well as developmental problems in children and infants. Does that sound healthy and organic? Obviously not. Luckily, some of China’s “organic” products are more likely to be contaminated than others. Fish, chicken, apples, rice, mushrooms, green peas, black pepper, and garlic were found to be the most contaminated foods from China and are to be avoided. As always, the only way to be completely sure that your food is free of chemicals and additives is to grow it yourself. Vegetable gardens can fit in even the smallest of spaces, are attractive, help local insects (including bees), and can provide you and your family with delicious food that is completely safe.