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Dispelling Rumors: Organics from China

By Rachael Gruver, March 15, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Rachael Gruver

Let’s put a rest to some rumors!

I answer customer questions here at Whole Foods Market. Lately we’ve been hearing from a lot of customers who’ve seen a news story about our frozen vegetables coming from China. It’s actually an inaccurate four year-old news story that has resurfaced and is making its way around the internet again. I‘m posting here in the hopes of setting the record straight.

The story, which first aired on ABC affiliate WJLA in 2008, paints the picture that organics from China are not possible.

This is simply not true.

Any product labeled as organic, whether it is grown in the US or any other country in the world, must meet US organic standards. At the time the story aired we debunked its inaccuracies point-by-point right here on our blog. Since then, we’ve also made some changes to our product lineup worth mentioning. In 2010 we stopped sourcing any 365 Everyday Value® frozen fruits and veggies from China, with the exception of frozen edamame (organic and non-organic).

To be clear, we did not make this change because of quality concerns, we were simply able to find other sources for these products at better prices.

Again, any product sold as organic in the US, regardless of where it’s grown, must be certified to the USDA's National Organic Program standard by a USDA-accredited certifier. In July 2011, the National Organic Program released a report on its mission to China to assess the competence of its certifiers and the integrity of organic certification and products there.

The USDA investigators found that certifiers working in China were highly competent and able to ensure the integrity of organic products grown in China. 

If you’d like to read it for yourself, we hope you’ll check out the USDA’s assessment on their website. The biggest point I want to make is that you have a choice. The country of origin is printed on every single bag of our frozen 365 Everyday Value® fruits and vegetables.

If the source is consistent it’ll be printed on the back label and if the country of origin might change you’ll find it printed with an inkjet printer on the back label near the expiration date and lot code.

If you’re looking for frozen fruits and veggies grown in the US, we have an exclusive brand of domestically sourced frozen products from Columbia River Organics.

At Whole Foods Market, we will continue to build relationships with all of our suppliers across the globe, and we take great care to be sure our vendor partners in China have the same commitment to quality as our suppliers in the US and the rest of the world.

Thanks for reading through this. My team’s always here to help, so email us if you have any questions!

Category: Food Issues, Organics




steve jones says ...
Whole foods and there management has lost all credibility . ORganic from china? give me a break. This is a travesty. Zero credibility. I have been feeding my children this toxic garbage and paying premium prices for years - only bc i believed i was getting safe , high quality food. The quest for profits - trumps all. Whole foods you are an embarrassment.
04/09/2012 2:16:19 PM CDT
Carolyn Echols says ...
You have got to be kidding me! I would not intentionally eat anything imported from China. It absolutely is not safe...period.
04/09/2012 12:45:46 PM CDT
Melissa says ...
I agree with Leah. ...the article doesn't say that they only source from China. You still have a choice and they make it incredibly easy for you by marking the bag where the produce comes from. Like seriously. I think China's produce is the least of our worries. The reality is, however, we wouldn't need to import produce if ours actually met certain organic standards, especially the high standards of Whole Foods. We should all take a step back and consider why most countries won't import our produce and meats. Regardless, I don't think it's fair to punish hardworking Chinese farmers that are committed to quality produce and organic standards simply because their government is ripping us off. Just because someone lives in a certain country doesn't mean they represent the government of that country. They are hardworking individuals just like us.
03/24/2012 5:50:39 PM CDT
TJ says ...
i am happy to have received the email about the News Article. I use to be so proud and happy to shop at WF - I am embarrassed now to even have a bag with the WF's logo on it! I will no longer be shopping at your store! Whole Foods is not so whole after all.
04/10/2012 4:21:52 PM CDT
Jo Dee says ...
I find that it is harder and harder to get good quality safe food from Whole Foods, or Berkeley Bowl as the majority of their fresh food comes from Mexico, Chile or some other country. Its seems clear that they are sourcing from these countries as its more cost effective than locally grown foods, including the shipping costs, and there may not be enough locally grown food to fill their shelves etc.. Its hard to know if foods grown in foreign countries are grown safe or not - and the USDA is a watered down government agency that can't afford to get in the way of large agricultural companies and so has made the word "organic" meaningless anymore. The only hope is to find food grown by local smaller farmers who take the safety of their food seriously. Its not good enough to change the definition of "safe" to the point that we are provided food that by itself will not harm us - but won't help us either as it is often depleted of any vitamins or minerals as a result of how it was grown (hot house with GMO seeds and injected with gas to make tomatoes red etc...). I stopped shopping at Whole Foods years ago as their hype just meant that their food was more expensive - but for sometime at least it seemed the food was good - now its mainly international "organic" foods grown under very little supervision. I'm sad to say that the Berkeley Bowl seems headed down the same road. Its all farmers markets for me now.
03/30/2012 8:44:03 PM CDT
Barb says ...
I don't want to buy food from China. I had been shopping at Whole Foods to avoid food from China and am shocked and disgusted that you would ask us to believe food from China could possibly be organic. I agree with what Deb posted above. I don't even feed my pets food from China.
03/15/2012 10:38:02 PM CDT
Jim says ...
We can always believe what China tells us. If you doubt it just go check on it yourself. I mean they would never use lead in toy paint.
03/15/2012 9:44:28 PM CDT
Todd says ...
One of the largest countries in the world with the largest population, it's amazing that a few bad things were brought to light and it apparently speaks for the entire country. It's like the Red Scare all over again! You'd think that all the food (and other products) produced in America was top-notch and spotless. I, for one, have no problem eating food from China. In fact, I shop at local small Asian markets all the time!
03/15/2012 7:49:57 PM CDT
Allison B says ...
@john kelly We do moderate our blog comments to ensure that they meet our posting guidelines: http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/comment-posting-guidelines/. Since there is a real human being reviewing all the comments that come through the blog, there can be a delay between comment and approval. We do want an open conversation and encourage all opinions, again as long as they meet our guidelines. Thank you for sharing yours.
03/15/2012 2:44:21 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
<em>response from blog author... </em>We totally understand that purchasing decisions are personal, and that’s why we put the country of origin information right on the label. While we do work with supplier partners around the world, we also devote tons of space to locally grown foods in our stores. Stop by our fresh produce department at any one of our stores during a local growing season and let the selection of local produce speak for itself. Besides the environmental benefits, we think local food is fresher and tastes better, and we wholeheartedly believe that renewing local and regional agriculture is a good thing. We go out of our way to buy local products and have empowered our stores to buy directly from local growers in their communities. We also support local foods with programs like our Local Producer Loan Program.
03/15/2012 2:50:08 PM CDT
Deb S. says ...
Patty Pearson, I totally agree. Remember, China is the country that allowed their own babies to be killed by chemicals in their formula. I will not feed my dog anything that comes from China either.
03/15/2012 3:14:12 PM CDT
Tammy Milani says ...
I'm just really sad that you are purchasing food from China period. It's just shocking on so many levels. That goes against everything I thought Whole Foods was about. Really?? Even Whole Foods is selling out and gong to china? I don't care if it is organic. The resources it takes to get here are at question and I'd rather eat local and not be organic. I'm devastated. I've always loved Whole Foods but it looks like I'll be shopping at Trader Joes. :(
03/15/2012 2:49:28 PM CDT
john kelly says ...
oh and i see that comments need to be screened so people wont know what we are really saying, well that makes me mad so i guess ill have to take it everywhere i can
03/15/2012 2:43:24 PM CDT
john kelly says ...
well you can say what you want about china but me and my family will no longer be shopping at your stores and will look for local produce only. China lies cheats and steals and products are generally less than what they claim. It is a joke to think that educated people believe half that crap about anything from china and to think we thought you were better than that. Charge more and still get crap in return, and thats the way i feel about it.
03/15/2012 2:41:44 PM CDT
Patty Pearson says ...
In my mind and in the minds of many people who watch what they eat, food from China just can't be trusted. Sure there is an organic certification program set up there with competent certifiers, but that doesn't mean that all of the organic foods sourced from China meet standards. I believe that China needs to deal with it's endemic “whatever you can get-away with” inclinations before their food exports can be trusted to be exactly what they are labeled. I am certain that WFM is familiar with the reasons that people mistrust food imports from China. To say that the FDA has inspected their certification system does nothing to increase my trust. The FDA’s resources are scant and spread too thin to enable them to be able to assure the safety of our domestic food, let alone imports from a source known to be untrustworthy. It is laudable that WFM wants to offer choices to customers, but I wonder if it’s worth it when the choice is from China. I wonder if you carry products that contain ingredients sourced from China that have no disclosure on the label. Concerns such as these determine where I do my shopping. In fact, I am surprised that WFM has not taken the position that Trader Joe’s has -to not carry food imported from China or food products that have ingredients sourced from China. Ultimately, every company that declines to import food products from China will contribute to the evolution of China’s untrustworthy food production culture. Once they have a track record of producing wholesome food we all win, and your customers really will have a choice.
03/15/2012 12:37:03 PM CDT
Bellbiv says ...
Good information to know!
03/15/2012 11:24:28 AM CDT
Leah says ...
China china china, what about food from the US. You think everything processed here is clean and healthy. Pink slime in meats, arsenic in fruit juices. The choice of shopping at Whole Foods is your personal choice, to stay away from these issues. Please don't put an image that all food in China is bad.
03/16/2012 6:17:57 PM CDT
chris says ...
To me, having 365 products puts Whole Foods Market at a conflict of interest. Now they're not just in the business of providing good, quality options for its customers, but it has its own that it is selling. I'm sad to say, that eventually profits become more important than people.
03/16/2012 1:22:14 PM CDT
Allie says ...
But do you eat Chinese food? Who can resist a piping hot plate of lo mein, or better yet some congee with preserved eggs and pork? We need to get used to globalization, it isn't stopping any time soon. If you are so concerned about the sourcing of your food, move to the country and grow everything on your own. When you get tired of getting up at 4 am day in and day out go back to Whole Foods and be thankful they do as good of a job as they do.
03/16/2012 12:38:24 PM CDT
Teri T. says ...
Sorry Whole Foods. I'm of the same mindset as my fellow bloggers. Chinese industry has proven that they have NO..Zero integrity over and over again. Not only do I Not want to buy food from China, I also check with Pet food manufacturers to make certain that none of the ingredients in my cats food come from China either! And let's also not forget that China has little to No environmental laws regulating the purity of their water used to grow crops; coming from a country which imports millions of tons of coal to satisfy their enormous appetite for coal burning power plants. Moreover, the USDA, FTC and FDA do not have the manpower to adequately oversee the enormous volume of imports that flow into the U.S. from China and around the world. I love your store... but if Trader Joe's can do it with No ingredients or products from China, why can't you???
03/19/2012 2:50:28 AM CDT
Barry Markowitz says ...
Can you guarantee that the supplements you sell are not manufactured in China, and that they do not contain any substances from China? Quality control is essentially non-existent there and products from there cannot be trusted.
04/02/2012 1:13:30 PM CDT
Aaron says ...
If you don't trust USDA organic then it doesn't mean anything. Your problem is then with USDA organic, not whole foods.
03/17/2012 11:18:43 PM CDT
JenDiggity says ...
I found the tone of the (old) news report to be very xenophobic. Because the government has problems farmers can't be trusted? Because you can trust all the beaurocracy in the USA ( like the way the FDA only approves SAFE foods, right?). Way to promote fear and mistrust, Major Media! Thanks for makings healthy foods so easy to find, Whole Foods. &lt;3 you!
03/17/2012 11:30:34 PM CDT
Bettina says ...
I have to agree that I'm unsure that organics from China (and additionally ANY foreign country) are actually trustworthy, and also not 100% sure that everything labeled as grown here is either. When you don't see the progress from farm to table, you can't know. But I will say that we've got a better chance when buying organics than non-organic products. To this end, let me say that I'm not only less than thrilled with WFM's decision to carry organics from China, but also with the huge amount of non-organic foods in the store. And . . . we all know that QAI has had problems with sweetheart deals, who is to say that other certifiers aren't also looking the other way? There are also way too many highly processed items, which ARE NOT WHOLE FOODS. Ironic? Just a little? Then there's palm oil, which is highly problematic in terms of environment, unfair trade, and killing of orangutans to clear forest for plantations. WHM is full of the stuff. Please get it together, WFM. We really don't care about the bottom line until the foods are actually whole.
03/17/2012 10:11:42 PM CDT
Robert Green says ...
Not only am I concerned about contaminated food products from other countries,but what about genetically modified foods, grown right here in America, approved and certified as safe for human consumption, with little or no scientific test being done? We see the rise in disease in America, and the inability of our bodies to fight them off, mainly because the food and so-called medicines that we are given do not provide our bodies with much needed nutrients to fight off the effects of many of these diseases. We also hear the people who run the insurance companies and food producers, sitting around predicting how much money they plan to make off the suffering of the people, the sickness of the people. We know that most of our suffering is directly related to what we eat and drink.So understand our concern over this matter when we find that one of the sources that many of us trust for good nutritious food, might be just like many of the others, that we trust, Just Out For The Money!!!!!!
03/17/2012 9:05:05 PM CDT