Whole Foods Organic Food from China

Whole Foods Organic Food from China

Some organic food products sold by the Whole Foods Market grocery chain are from China, reported Roberta Baskin of Washington’s WJLA-TV. Whole Foods claims to be  “the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.” Ms. Baskin acquired a WF internal “country of origin” memo.

This report builds on earlier research, like Paula Lavigne’s 2006 article in the Dallas Morning News, which reported that “40 percent of organic farms and handlers are in foreign countries, including 300 farms and processing plants in China.” 90 percent of China’s 8.6 million acres of organic farmland was certified in 2004, and experts doubt the land could have transitioned from conventional farming that quickly:

China has a history of dousing fields with chemicals, researchers say.

Fred Gale, a senior USDA economist who has researched Chinese agriculture, said it was “almost impossible to grow truly organic food in China.”

“The water everywhere is polluted, and the soil is contaminated from industry and mining, and the air is bad.”

 The USDA National Organic Program does not certify foods as organic; it certifies organic certification  agencies. Forty of these are in foreign countries.

 Hat Tip: Mark Bittman of the New York Times. Go to his Bitten blog to see where he got it.

Image by Mike Licht. Not certified organic. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

10 Responses to “Whole Foods Organic Food from China”

  1. james calissi Says:

    Chinese agriculture is not all DDT and Lead Arsnic. I beleive there are legitimate organic farms in China. Remember, imported organics does not have the USDA Organics logo on it and is essentially unregualted. Whole Food relies on the use of recognized certification agenies abroad to ensue the foods they purchase is organic enough for their consumers.

    Bigger issues in poor countries is the use of night soil (human waste manure) more so than if expensive pesticides were used. This is untraceable by inspection. Of course the dangers of using night soil on crops destined for human consumption is the transmission of diseases.


  2. A.Ho Says:

    There are organic farms in China (mainly operated by the rich for the rich). The food from those farms are not exported out of the country though due to the low amount of it. I know where to get them 🙂 (one of the perks of living in the country). Not that organic food from China is easily accessible, but nevertheless it’s not impossible to get them.

  3. zeynepankara Says:

    I like China foods and there are some nice places in Istanbul about it.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    James Calissi — While the WJLA-TV report raises general questions about the safety of the imported products given recent events, the major thrust is that crops grown in the soil of farms in question would not be ruled organic if they were in the USA.

    Paula Lavigne’s 2006 Dallas Morning News article quotes an American organic certification authority, who makes the point that it takes years for traces of chemical fertilizer and pesticides to leave the soil, but he is assuming the model of large-scale American farming. The article does bring up the issue of nightsoil fertilizer, and I agree with you that this traditional farming technique is more likely and more dangerous. The current state of industrialization in China uses small family-run factories to make components for electronic products sold for export by larger concerns; it is probable that export agriculture operates on similar lines.

    Another Lavigne source mentions the state of the Chinese water supply. Industrial contaminants are known to pollute drinking water in the fast-growing cities, and many of these are located in agricultural regions. Most canned products are water-packed; while water is heat and salt or other products added to retard spoilage, this may not remove inorganic contaminants. The designation “spring water” is not helpful, as much ground water has been contaminated.

  5. Mike Licht Says:


    An interesting note. The widespread use of the designation “export quality” on products sold in agricultural countries of origin shows that best-quality products are usually not enjoyed domestically. A friend who spent time on a Colombian coffee finca told me they never got good coffee unless a sack broke as they were transporting the beans to seaports.

    The development of boutique organic farming “operated by the rich for the rich” tells us that, unsurprisingly, the wealthy of China share the international “foodie” and “locavorian” tastes and perspectives of their Western counterparts.

  6. Mike Licht Says:


    The world loves Chinese cooking; it is the quality and nature of foods grown in China and exported that is questioned.

    BTW, Washington, DC has recently discovered Turkish cooking. We have a popular restaurant called Zaytinya (Turkish for “olive oil”).

  7. menlotechnical Says:

    1) thank you for this post
    2) “90 percent of China’s 8.6 million acres of organic farmland was certified in 2004” Completely right.
    There are parallels between this and mad cow disease auditing.
    Since China is unregulated in so many aspects and they are not built on a system called ‘rule of law’ / trial by jury etc., then there is little profit incentive that motivates authenticity in manufacturing and processing. Look for other wordpress posts about “China and Foot and Mouth Disease” – mostly due to unregulated cattle handling.
    The issue is the throughout other industries – there are agencies developed and maintained to give the perception of Protection and Authenticity, but virtually NOTHING that audits these groups, and in turn there is no consequence to ignoring certification rules and practices.
    So whether it is USDA, FDA, FCC, FAA, Banking Policies, Corporate Accounting Practices, Food Certification – they all are lacking in auditing and the kind of quality control one THINKS OF when hearing the work Certified.

  8. Mike Licht Says:

    menlotechnical points out the flaws in the current administration’s standard operating procedure, which does not regulate the safety and effectiveness of products and activities but merely certifies industry pretenses of self-regulation.

    The philosophical basis for this is a quasi-religious faith in all-powerful, all-knowing Market Forces, and a disingenuous assertion that businesses won’t cut corners for short-term gain.

  9. Peter Peverelli Says:

    Will China be the leader in organic food and ingredients?

    China is already the third largest producer of organic produce in terms of hectares and the domestic consumption of organic foods is also increasing in the urban regions. Would China have the potential of becoming number one? After some initial research, I have started a campaign in this market. It would be interesting to obtain some feedback on my thoughts. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/3902797/Chinese-Organic-Food-Market-Study

    Also see the discussion on this topic that I initiated on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&gid=36656&discussionID=1259419&goback=.anh_36656

  10. Whole Foods 365 Organic: Made in China. An ABC Exposé. | elephant journal Says:

    […] my mind, this old video (that continues to make waves; a reader just tweeted it to me this morning) is a hackjob, a disgrace to […]

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