Where Are the Best Stories about Food or China Goes “Organic”

The best stories about food?  The Business section of The New York Times.

No recipes there for chicken puttanesca!  Bobby Who?  Ingredient of the year?  (Hint: It’s a restructured CDS with a hedge on the collapse of Greece.)

Today’s Top Story?

Easy.

Turns out that the most of the organic stuff people pay top dollar for at Whole Foods, under the store label, was grown and packaged in China and then certified by the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA):

Whole Foods Market, the nation’s leading organic retailer, has used Chinese organics, including those from association-inspected producers, in many of its store brand products, including frozen vegetables, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and bottled teas.”

What’s the problem?

Setting aside for a moment the politics of environmental irresponsibility  implicit in flying or shipping food 8000 miles from its source to consumers in the U.S., ignoring the labor conditions of the workers in China who produce the stuff…

Effective today, the USDA–United States Agriculture Department–has banned the OCIA from operating in China citing conflict of interest:

“Federal officials say the banned inspector, the Organic Crop Improvement Association, used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities. The group, based in Nebraska and known by the initials O.C.I.A., has for years been one of the leading inspectors of Chinese organics for the United States market. Anticipating the department’s action, the group shut most of its operations last year.”

Further:

“In China, the O.C.I.A. joined forces with the Organic Food Development Corporation, an agency affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection. The association kept a small staff — one or three people in Nanjing — while inspectors from the Chinese agency went out to farms and factories. Their findings were translated into English and sent to O.C.I.A. headquarters in Nebraska, where staff members reviewed the material and made the final decisions on certification. The department objected to the arrangement after a 2007 audit, saying the partnership violated a rule barring certifiers from reviewing operations in which they held a commercial interest.”

Whole Foods is cutting its reliance upon its Chinese farmers except for edamame:

“…the number of those products has been shrinking, in part because of consumer worries about their credentials as organics. Two years ago, the company said, it sold about 30 private label items with organic ingredients from China; by the end of this year, it will stock only two: shelled and unshelled frozen edamame soybeans.”

Buy organic?  Sure….but not with the Whole Foods label.

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