The Seattle Times reports that, because of continuing food safety concerns about products exported from China, which are compounded by political corruption issues that seem to enable manufacturers to cut corners and export tainted food, “the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic program has decided to visit China more often.” The central concern is that Chinese producers of organic foods may not have the levels of integrity needed to assure retailers and consumers that they are getting what they are paying for.
The Times reports:
“No one tracks how much organic food China ships to the U.S., but overall Chinese organic exports have rocketed from $300,000 in 1995 to about $500 million in 2008. Most of it goes to Europe, but the number of organic operations—farms, processors and others—being certified for U.S. organic standards climbed from 496 in 2006 to 649 last fall.”
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for checking most imported foods, samples less than 1 percent of all regulated products. It regularly refuses shipments of purportedly organic foods because of pesticide residues or unsafe food additives—not because the food does not meet organic standards, but because they do not meet standards for any food. For example, organic soybean meal coming through the Port of Seattle in 2007 appeared to contain ‘a poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health,’ according to an FDA report.”
“The USDA’s organic program, which ensures that food carrying the organic label is indeed organic, does not examine food as it comes into the country, and it only sporadically tests products that are labeled organic from the U.S. and elsewhere.”