Wherever you are in the world, the appeal to eat organic is hard to ignore. Often presented as a panacea to cure all, here in China, the benefits of eating organic seem all the more vital given that concerns about food safety are at the forefront of every consumer’s mind.
But is eating organic really such a big deal? Or is it just another marketing fad, designed to make us spend more than we really need to when browsing the grocer’s shelves?
In sum, eating organic does matter and here’s why.
The American not-for-profit watchdog, Environmental Working Group, compiles an annual list of vegetables and fruits most susceptible to contamination by pesticide residue, a.k.a ‘The Dirty Dozen’. The watchdog quite clearly recommends buying organic versions of these vegetables from trusted suppliers if you can, to protect you and your family’s health.
And while we wait for this year’s list to be compiled, you can expect to see fruits like apples, strawberries and grapes, alongside veggies such as cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes; check out the full Environmental Working Group list.
That’s all well and good, but what about here in China?
Organic in China
Eating organic in China might be even more important than elsewhere in the world. For it could be the only way to ensure that the food you put on your table is free from chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants that plague the Chinese farmland.
The accreditation process to get organic certification in China is very strict. Firstly, Chinese farmers must prove that they have kept their land free from pollutants (e.g. industrial fertilizers and pesticides) for at least three years before they can even begin to sell crops. That’s a huge investment for them. Under China’s increasingly firm organic standards, the use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants are also strictly prohibited, while water must be filtered and crops must be protected from potentially harmful rain.
The Chinese Organic Certification Center (COFCC), the agency in charge of certifying all organic produce in the country, tests 30% of organic products itself. It outsources the rest – given the sheer scale of the tasks – to private firms, NGOs and individual inspectors, all of which must be accredited by the Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA).
The fact that such agencies are booming proves the growing demand for safe, organic produce among Chinese consumers as well as expats. Ironically enough, another growth area for the Chinese organic industry is in foreign, often western, countries that import organic produce from China and sell it in their own markets.
There are alternatives to organic produce, which are perfectly safe.
For example, the China Green Food Development Centre (CGFDC) regulates a tiered system that allows farmers to produce food according to two safety standards. ‘A’ rated produce can be grown with the use of a small number of strictly controlled synthetic substances. ‘AA’ rated produce, on the other hand, is far more stringent and requires farmers to avoid using chemicals, close to typical organic standards.
Of course it’s easy to wise up to food regulations in China, but in practice it can be a little harder to find safe produce.
So you should get into the good habit of asking questions of all your suppliers – where does produce come from? What tests have been performed to ensure its safety? What conditions has it been subjected to in storage and transit?
The key is to buy your groceries from trusted sources who do the hard work for you.
Established in 2009, in response to food safety scares in China, FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com) kick-started the online grocery shopping revolution on China’s east coast.
Celebrating its 7th anniversary this April, FIELDS has been a trusted supplier to expats and their families in Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing and more for the past 7 years. It delivers safe, organic vegetables and fruits, imported and domestic meat and seafood, and essential pantry and bakery items to your door. Order before 5 PM in Shanghai and benefit from same-day delivery with free delivery for orders over 200 RMB. You’re a new customer? Great – you’ll receive a free gift with your first order!
Learn more about FIELDS’ organic suppliers.