Fake ‘Organic’ Foods From China: 6 Things You Must Know Before You Buy Them

July 26, 2019 Updated: July 26, 2019

The United States loves organic food. As part of a movement toward holistic health in recent years, many people try to shop organic wherever possible. But it’s becoming increasingly likely that your organic food comes from China rather than closer to home.

Organic farmers in the United States are unable to keep up with the massive demand, so foods are regularly imported from overseas. A 2017 report from Food Safety News stated that up to 80 percent of the organic food bought and eaten in America is imported, and China is one of our main suppliers.

©Shutterstock | Amateur007

Owing to China’s extraordinarily low production costs, the United States can ship products halfway around the world for less than it costs to grow them at home. But that might be a huge mistake health-wise, and here’s why.

Read on for six important things to know about “organic” food from China.

1. There is a massive lack of environmental regulation

Chinese residents walking beside a heavily polluted river in Zhugao, Sichuan Province, in 2009 (©Getty Images | PETER PARKS/AFP)

“Certified organic” is a label that does carry some weight in China. Food producers are not permitted to add pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, or toxins to their crops, but regulations currently omit considerations for outside environmental factors like pollution.

Therefore, a lack of regulations equals what? That’s right—a lack of traceability. Environmental toxins certainly won’t be written on the food label.

2. Chinese ‘organic’ produce is grown using heavily polluted water

A man washes vegetables at China’s largest freshwater lake in 2007; Poyang Lake is significantly polluted with heavy metals (©Getty Images | MARK RALSTON/AFP)

The head of China’s Ministry of Water Resources revealed that up to 40 percent of the country’s rivers are “seriously polluted,” as quoted by The Guardian. Lakes don’t fare much better and the damage is visible; polluted Chinese lakes are frequently infected with algae blooms, turning the surface of the water a “bright, iridescent green.”

Depending upon which part of the country your organic food was grown in, this same polluted water may have been used to water the crops.

3. Herbal supplements may be corrupted with heavy metals

A child walking past various herbs used in Chinese traditional medicine for sale at the Caizhuanyue Market in Yulin, Southern China, in 2015 (©Getty Images | JOHANNES EISELE/AFP)

Chinese herbal supplements are frequently employed for their detoxifying properties. What makes them such good detoxifiers is that they are porous, so they absorb the bad stuff and safely transport it out of your body.

However, this porous quality means that herbs can also absorb heavy metals from the environment in which they grew. Past studies have found chlorella from China to be contaminated with aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, and even lead, which is toxic to consume.

4. Some suppliers have faked organic food labels

Locally produced organic food in a store in Beijing on Jan. 12, 2009 (©Getty Images | PETER PARKS/AFP)

As far back as 2011, the Cornucopia Institute hailed the federal government for identifying a non-certified Chinese company that faked an organic certificate. The fake certificate was used to pass non-organic soy, millet, and buckwheat under the noses of food inspection authorities.

Why did they initially get away with it? Read on.

5. 70 percent of China’s ‘organic’ produce skips official inspection

©Shutterstock | Trong Nguyen

Reportedly, the China Organic Food Certification Center (COFCC) only inspects 30 percent of the “organic” food products produced in China; the USDA relies upon third-party agencies to handle the rest.

Luo Min, an official with the China Organic Food Development Center, told Reuters that “there are different standards and various organizations which conduct the certification.” Without uniform standards, an “organic” label from China might not be worth the paper it’s printed on.

6. There’s trouble at the top

Crates of oranges await inspection at the customs and quarantine section of the Xinfandi wholesale market in Beijing, 2011 (©Getty Images | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP)

The New York Times reported that an audit of food inspection operations in China unearthed at least 10 state-managed farms or factories that “posed a potential conflict of interests.” It was also “not clear” whether these farms had violated organic food standards.

There’s an alarming amount of ambiguity around the safety of imported Chinese foods. If you love to eat organic, then do as much research as you can and exercise caution; your health depends on it.