Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Dispelling Rumors: Organics from China

Updated March 1, 2017

Editor's note: An inaccurate news story from 2008 has resurfaced on social media. We've updated this blog post to include an official response from Whole Foods Market: 

"None of the 365 Everyday Value® products we currently offer include organic frozen fruits or organic frozen vegetables from China, with the exception of one product that includes organic soybeans from China. We have a variety of options for organic products, including products grown in the USA. For example, in recent years, we’ve become one of the few retailers to offer a frozen organic edamame that’s grown in the USA, which is stated on the front of the package."

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 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!

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123 comments

Comments

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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. :(

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

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.

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.

bellbiv says …

Good information to know!

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.

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.

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.

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???

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.

Megan says …

@Barry Are you asking about our 365 brand supplements, or the entire supplement selection we carry? Please let me know and I can reach out to our experts.

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.

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!

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.

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!!!!!!

Jennifer says …

Well said Patty Pearson. If you've ever been to China you'd know the pollution there. Too many stories about the short cuts they take with product safety. I am disappointed Whole Foods would source anything from China. I thought you were better than that which is why I pay a premium to shop there.

Shilpa Acharya says …

Yes, but now most of your organic veggies and fruits are from Mexico or South America. So much for reducing our carbon footprint, not to mention how do I know the farms in Mexico aren't a front for some drug lord. We shop at the Whole foods in Marlton, NJ and they have stopped carrying Columbia River Organics' frozen plain broccoli. The USDA cannot check every shipment that is coming through. Grown in USA is the best and it supports our farmers which is more important.

Callie says …

I would not buy any foods from China, period. Like the above comments, the thing that sticks out most is the pollution in China. This is the air that the growing vegetables, fruits, etc. are growing in, each and every day. I would not trust anything from there, for me, or my growing family.

Grant says …

Ultimately, one of the reasons I purchase from WFM is that I don't need to think about the country of origin nor should I have too. If I want to go read labels about country of origin; I can go to many other national chains and pay appreciably less for my groceries and do that - I expect more from WFM. When you intermix locally sourced fresh fruits and veggies, with items from foreign markets you are asserting them as equal in value and quality - that's not right. Chinese business has developed a bad reputation, just this week we saw another expose come out on this issue. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-15/china-corporate-espionage-boom-knocks-wind-out-of-u-s-companies.html If this is going on in other industries within China; what gives me comfort that what I am putting on the table is what it says it is especially when WFM is 3 parties removed from the farm? Sure, the inspector may be honest and true; but who is to say someone didn't get tipped off 3 days before the inspection (the bribing of company and government officials is commonplace) and suddenly everything passes with flying colors. The simple answer is unless WFM is willing to put its own inspectors on the farm and watch from planting to harvest to transport; I cannot and will not trust it. I encourage WFM to do the right thing and either have much higher (ie WFM employee) surveillance in China or better remove China from the supply chain until which time it can be trusted. WFM may be willing to take the risk of sourcing from China, but I'm not willing to put it on the table for my family. If that means I buy from Trader Joe's instead of Whole Foods...so be it.

Hailey says …

I am so disappointed that Whole Foods has ever and is now still buying food from China. The whole reason I shop there and pay more then other stores is because I was under the belief the product was better. Buying produce from China is not acceptable when there are local growers to the areas that should be utilized. Also the product value in China is so low with health risks and dangers. If WF has to send out someone to ensure the food I China is US approved organic why not just use a US grower? WF must be getting the produce at dirt cheap and turning around to sell for a large gain and charging all of us top dolls. Not good. I think I would now rather shop somewhere else.

Peter Chea says …

Come on People! When it comes to China they eat much healthier than any other Country in the World. They have less heart attacks! Less Cancer rate! They live longer! So why not Trust China! We trust America! Cancer rate HIGH! Heart attacks HIGH! Our Children are dying at an early AGE! Due to Obesity and Diabetes from poor eating habits. Let's Stop beating up China and Start beating up America. What are we being fed here?????????????

Ty Shlackman says …

Why does everyone hate China? Maybe their food can't be trusted but I doubt the food from many other countries can be trusted either. You really think food from third world Latin American nations is any more trustworthy? The only reason the media tells you about unsafe food from China is because they want you to hate and fear China. At least China requires genetically modified food to be labeled unlike the USA.

H. Chet Bacon says …

Personally I would like WFW to place the country of origin right on the front of the label. I never looked at the origin in WF because I ASSUMEd WFW had a unique standard. I guess I will have to ask where other food items are from, meat, chicken, fish (mostly noted already) and all other grains and cereals. I will continue to shop at WF but with a careful eye to things from now on!

Hans says …

STOP buying food from china ! Im glad I saw this article, it will surely be passed on to all I know, I thought your company was better than that. This is so unbelievable coming from Whole Foods and all that you say you stand for. It seems it always comes down to the bottom line: Greed. What hypocrites.

JamesL says …

I have a hard time trusting the USDA certification for US grown foods. Organic, to me, means multiple certifications OTHER THAN USDA. So when I see Organic from CHINA... I simply put the product down and find something else grown locally. Chinese Organic is an oxymoron, no matter how WFM tries to spin it. I know it's a small percentage of the overall product line, but customers feel misled and slightly betrayed when this information is brought to light. I, too, will be spending more dollars a Trader Joes and fewer dollars at WFM until WFM makes some changes in this department. Thanks for opening the discussion. I really do love WF, but this incident was an eye-opener.

Kacie says …

First, a thank you to Whole Foods for being up front and honest about the issue. If people feel so strongly about avoiding foods from China, it's always an option. But I have to say that it's disheartening to read such hateful comments. The xenophobia is overwhelming. I mean, seriously? "China" is not one single evil entity. You might as well judge the whole of American food production based on the brilliant ethics of Monsanto or Tyson. We're just as bad when it comes to corporate corruption, and no amount of nationalistic pride will change the facts. Chinese organic is an oxymoron? Well, what about the OTCO certified Mountain Rose Herbs? They source many organic products from China, but please, *do* tell me how they - a zero waste company - are obviously greedy corporate bloodsuckers. Or is it that the Chinese are duping them? These knee-jerk reactions just reinforce the idea that America is full of fear-mongering ethnocentric bigots. Don't knock China 'til you've been there, and I don't mean on a guided tour. Because, you know, one of the hottest topics in the Chinese/Taiwanese news right now is about banning US beef imports. Mmmm... delicious irony...

Rob says …

I am very disappointed in the response of WF to the outrage associated with sourcing from a country with ONGOING intentional food tainting and extremely corrupt business practices. The fact that WF has not come out to announce that they will no longer source from China speaks volumes about how much they care about their customers.

Alec Caywood says …

If you don't trust the organic certification from USDA Organic then you cant trust any organic label you see. Unless you grow them yourself, there is no way to verify the product label. I feel like WF has done an appropriate job in not only clarifying this issue, but also letting people know that they can check the origin of their product on the label, and they provide alternatives if you deem that origin un-trustworthy. Alec - Tulane

nini says …

And the carbon footprint of food from China is about the size of the moon. Worry less about organic, and more about the air your children breathe due to unnecessary airplane traffic. You can freeze and preserve local vegetables with little effort and provide your family with not only healthier food but healthier lungs.

Susan says …

I do not buy frozen vegetables, etc very often and would never have thought that your products would be from China. I'm glad this story has recirculated because I will check the back of all packages at your store. The story has raised concerns and I do question the integrity of your store and some of its products. I've had some concerns about the fresh produce from Mexico and won't buy it and don't understand why you sell it. I will continue to shop at WF but will be doing so with a very watchful eye on what goes in my cart. Disappointing and sadly just a sign of the times. Can't trust any chain and WF is no different.

Laurence Hauben says …

Given that we live in California, I really see no reason to buy produce from anywhere else. We can grow it here, it doesn't have to travel as far so it is fresher, and it is easier to monitor the integrity of the growers. As local organic farmer Michael Ableman (founder of Fairview Gardens) said to me back in 1993, "A good farmer is a good farmer. I'd rather eat a conventional carrot from around here than an organic one from three thousand miles away." It's not just about the label, it's about the people. Who's your farmer?

Maureen says …

Since China used melamine to up the protein content in their baby formula, it killed hundreds of Chinese babies. I won't even talk about all the recalls of pet food nor the conditions under which they raise tilapia. Since I just became aware that companies can import items i.e. tilapia, do the breading and frying here and legally label it as Made in USA, I don't want any food that can't be verified as 100% USA. I was going to make my first visit to your store this weekend since I'm pretty far away, I won't bother now. Thank you for letting me know that you buy food from China; but, you have just lost my business.

Nora says …

I don't understand what kind of world we are living in today. After I've read all those comments above, I will build my own green house and grow my organic vegetables!

Virginia says …

I was under the impression Whole Foods had stopped importing frozen foods from China. I wonder about the fresh produce? I am on Organic for serious health issues...I would hate to think all my produce is coming from China....cabbage.beets etc. I would appreciate a reply...thank you.

Lisa T. says …

I'm very disappointed that WF feels the need to import food from China when there are plenty of US growers. China is not to be trusted. They couldn't even get pet food right a couple years ago. Sorry Whole Foods...this is where I jump off.

Oliver says …

I can't say your reply impresses me. If its something you can not get anywhere else, by all means, get it from China. As far as I know though, there is little to nothing that can't be grown in the US, thus buying and shipping food around the globe is stupid and wasteful. And you're not a 99ct store, shopping at WF is expensive! So I expect the highest quality and trusting that that only comes from China is a stretch of the imagination. If the food was actually produced here in the US, where wages and labor laws are - while not great - certainly better than anything in China, I'm fine with the higher price, but not if you do the Aldi dance of cheap cheap cheap. And sorry, but I don't have time to turn every package over and see where it comes from, print it big and clear on the front if you're not embarrassed, otherwise just don't offer it, ok? You're not Walmart. Sorry, but you'll see a lot less of me from here on, I'll be at the farmers market instead, where my food is fresh and not who knows how old in a plastic bag, shipped half around the globe.

Nancy Weber says …

My concern is that I am attempting to utilize the few dollars I have to purchase wisely so that I am not only attempting to purchase healthy foodstuffs but am attempting to support those growers and producers in my own economic sphere, as much as possible. Why is WFs contributing to other country's economics when American producers are available? I think if something is strictly grown in another country, then is it really something we need to be eating? Health-wise I was always taught to try to eat foods when in season and in region and while there are things that people desire from other countries, purchasing them from other countries that have essentially embargoed any reciprocal exchange of goods is ludicrous at best. If we have a symbiotic relationship with another country, i.e. they purchase our goods on a par that we purchase their goods, then fine but that isn't what is occurring with regards to China. I am personally not 'anti-China' necessarily but I think we all, including WFs, needs to rethink their actions in regards to trade with them. I don't know that I would trust a system of inspection that has allowed MANY issues with their products to easily pass through to us and I certainly will not be supporting those that support the one sided trade exchange that we currently have with that or any other country with like trade agreements.

Bonnie says …

Are we talking about the FDA that approves of GMOs and Monsanto? I just want to know if there is another FDA that I didn't know about. LOL

Dennis says …

As an educated Food Health Scientist it is MY OPINION that ... Although WF's claims use of 3rd-Party companies to "certify" organic farms in China, WF does not state whether the product is confirmed as being organic when it arrives at the end of the shipment in the USA. Asian shippers often substitute or dilute product shipments to the USA with inferior products (ie. "non-organic"). Perhaps WF's should consider using the Food Industury QC methods such as HACCP (Hazards And Critical Control Points) evaluations. While “California blend” might be used by traditional marketers as a "common term" for a blend of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, WF's does not print the origin in a prominent place in EQUIVALENT PRINT SIZE. Don't kid yourself WF's ... your Shoppers are educated and smart enought to recognize misleading labeling. The -response- from WF's management is a thinly veiled attempt to "rationalize" a misleading marketing decision to obscure product origins on some products. This is only one 'customer's' opinion ... but you should take stock and recalibrate your marketing to take the HIGH ROAD in advertising and marketing ... particularly when products are from difficult geograpical regions where dubious practices are frequently the rule in business. Stick to clear, honest, highest quality and overt-honesty in labeling ... it make WFs a success and it is what is most appreciated by consumers today!

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