Food safety isn’t just a challenge in China – it’s a global problem. And while this country does seem to have it’s (more than) fair share of food scandals, things seem to have improved with the government passing even tougher food safety laws in 2015.
Following suit, Chinese produce is on the up too, with more and more sustainable, organic options available now than ever before.
So what does organic really mean in China?
Organic farming is based on traditional, sustainable practices that have existed for millennia – sustainable farming in China has been recorded as long as 4,000 years ago. But today, there are two main government organic certification agencies in China – the China Organic Food Certification Center (COFCC) and the Organic Food Development Center (OFDC).
OFDC was set up by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) in 1994 – SEPA is now called the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) – as the first Chinese certifier to be accredited by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO-65).
COFCC was set up by the Green Food Development Center in 2002. Today, COFCC inspects about 30 percent of all organic farms and enterprises in China.
In addition to these, there are various other private certification firms, NGOs, and individual inspectors, all of which have to be accredited by China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA).
Organic farms that FIELDS works with – including BIOFarm, Foodpedia, Anyways and Zhongsui – are certified by the Nanjing National Organic Certification Center, a subsidiary of OFDC.
The road to obtaining organic certification is a long one. Of course, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones or transgenic technology are prohibited but for a new farm to earn the organic tag it must go much further. The first step is for it to replenish or ‘clean’ its soil for three years, during which time crops will be grown in rotation using only natural compost and natural pest control methods. Importantly, the farm must not sell any of the crops grown during this cleaning period – meaning that gaining organic certification clearly takes significant initial investment.
While, there should be no heavy industry, factory or nuclear power plant in the vicinity of the farm, an organic farm can also only use filtered water for irrigation. Anyways Farm, to take an example, filters its water in two different ways – sand filtering and active carbon filtering.
If the farm fulfills all above criteria, auditors from the certification center will visit to conduct tests. On passing the test, the farm is certified organic for a period of one year only. The tests are then performed every subsequent year before the organic license can be renewed.
It’s important to point out that China does not recognize foreign organic certification – including USDA – and it’s illegal to sell any product as organic if it hasn’t also been certified by Chinese authorities.
Recent times have seen a growing demand for organic produce among Chinese consumers as well as expats. And, ironically enough, another growth area for the Chinese organic industry is in other, often western, countries, which import organic produce from China and sell it in their own markets.
Organic label – real or fake?
By law, all organic products should carry the organic label. But how to tell if it’s real or fake?
This is one example of what an organic label looks like.
Simply scan the QR code to check the authenticity of the label: you’ll see the following information, which includes the name of the certification agency (highlighted in green), the certification number, the type of certification and more. In this example, one of FIELDS’ organic suppliers, Foodpedia, has been certified by the Nanjing National Organic Certification Center.
When you scan the QR code, you may also see the following screen. You need to input the organic number on the label (simply scratch away the grey area on the logo, with the Chinese characters 刮开涂层得有机码) and enter it in the first box on the screen. In the second box you need to enter the captcha password shown on the right-hand side.
If your organic label doesn’t have a QR code, simply visit http://food.cnca.cn/ to check its authenticity.
Show me the money
Of course, organic products are only available at a premium, matching the investment farms have to make to achieve the organic holy grail. But the price you pay directly supports the growth of the organic farming movement and, with that, you’re effectively investing in a future where more and more certified products will come to market.
So how expensive are we talking? Well, on average, the markup is about twice as much as you’d pay at a wet market, give or take a few RMB.
But what you get in return is something that can’t be counted in mere dollars, pounds or kuai – an assurance of safety that is, quite literally, priceless when it comes to your health and the health of those that you love in the long run.
Contributed by FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com), a popular online grocery store for safe, quality food in China. FIELDS stocks fresh organic fruit and veg, imported and domestic meat and seafood, plus essential pantry items from home. Order before 5 pm in Shanghai and benefit from same day delivery with delivery free for orders over RMB 200. A new customer? Great – you’ll receive a free gift with your first order!
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