Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Dispelling Rumors: Organics from China

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!

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123 comments

Comments

Daniel Font says …

Wow - so I am paying Whole Foods prices for for goods that are very likely adulterated or grown in some of the most polluted soils on the planet, and your company's response is "Don't worry - its okay - it says organic. The Chinese would never lie about that." Unbelievable. So much for integrity and supporting the local US farmer.

Candi says …

My concern is the water. If it isn't clean, it doesn't matter what practice you follow. The water in China and in Mexico is contaminated even worse than ours. So, eating products grown there is unsafe. All I am asking Whole Foods to do is carry alternatives. I can find many but the biggest problem for me is tomatoes. You offer very few if any grown in an area where the water is clean.

Steve Humphries says …

If it can't be regulated and inspected by the USDA Organic which they admitted they can't regulate in China in the story then why is it stamped USDA Organic? This is pretty ridicules and not too mention a lie! And again if you know they can't be inspected then again I have lost faith in your company. I was lead to believe that they would have to keep regular tabs and keep up with certain standards and be inspected by the USDA. I'm am very upset about this because that's all I seam to hear is just about every thing coming from China has very poor standards and not just the food which is the most important thing! I don't trust any thing from China!

john says …

Whole Foods markets is the best and highest quality food and shopping environment in can find in the Houston texas area(s). That said the run down environment at the Wilcrest location in Houston is not up to the others. I say that as an analogy to the China vs USA organic food blog debate... WFM simply STOP buying from China unless you have a China based whole foods location. If your stores are in the USA then ONLY buy from the USA and preferably as locally as practical for each store. Cut the Walmart approach garbage out. Everyone buying from you knows they pay a huge price premium and we are OK with that if and only if you don't compromise quality and image.. Buying from china compromises that image so you should stop and apologize by announcing the firing of management which pushed the overseas purchases. Your business model requires a near perfect image so fix it.

Michael Schmicker says …

Thanks for the clarification above, but let me make a suggestion. Stop buying food from China. The USDA does not have a great reputation for inspecting food imported into the USA. I've read a little as 5% of food imports are actually inspected. I just read a scary story from Food and Water Watch entitled "A Decade of Dangerous Imports from China." I think Whole foods is playing with fire by sourcing anything from China. Customers pay a premium to shop at Whole Foods, and willingly -- if they believe Whole Foods is not just another corporation cutting corners and buying food wherever they can get it cheaper. I'm bothered enough by Whole Foods sourcing from China that I will be cutting down on my purchases at our local Whole Foods store here in Hawaii. I'm only one customer, but I believe there are others out there quietly slipping away from your stores as well. You might want to do some customer polling. Once you compromise with quality and safety -- even if it is only customer perception -- you become nothing but another supermarket, and a more expensive one as well. Just my two cents. Sincerely, Mike Schmicker

William Feuer says …

Hi, I know it's a few years passed since this issue was heated, but I have a few questions. The first of which is, of course, whether or not whole foods is still sourcing organic food from China and if so, how many kinds of products? The second, in the 2010 NOP investigation only investigated 4 of the 9 certified agencies in China. That also neglected to investigate the 2 only chinese operated agencies (probably the ones engendering the most worry). So, why have the majority of the certified agencies still not been investigated? The third, as far as environmental regulations go, the USDA only checks the soil of the farmland to make sure it has been clean for at least 3 years. However, they do not check the air quality (a big issue in many parts of China) and they do not check the quality of the water being used to water the crops. In some parts of China the water is so hazardous that a 20 minute swim could cause death. With all this in mind is it not somewhat careless to source crops from one of the most environmentally poor countries in the world? Thanks, -Will Feuer

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@WILLIAM - Since our products differ between stores, I cannot give you a list of items company-wide. For our line of 365 frozen fruits and vegetables, the only items that come from China is our organic and conventional edamame. If you have specific questions about the USDA organic standards program, I would suggest reaching out to the USDA directly.

Dee says …

Wow I am really disgusted to learn that a majority of WFs organic products come from China! I just noticed that a majority of their bulk foods come from China. NO THANK YOU!!! You just lost a valuable customer. I now shop at Mrs. Greens because most of their produce come from US farmers.

Erika says …

Unfortunately the ethics in China are subpar and most “organic” certifiers have no problem faking documents, etc. Chinese are communist and d Do not buy anything with any ingredients from China. The pollution in the country is horrendous. My husband once went there and said the rivers are full of garbage and the air is so bad when you go indoors from being outside and blow your nose a bunch of black soot comes out. Pay close attention to labels.

Janet says …

I shop at WF because I had hoped that they would look out for my best interest and also America's best interest. In this day and age it is so difficult to know what you are eating. There are so many ways to deceive us. A lot of so called FDA approved organic is treated with chemicals that are just as bad as food grown with pesticides... so it is becoming more and more impossible to eat healthy unless you grow your own food. " I do want whole foods to know that I expect more because I pay more to shop at their stores. I would hope that they would do the research needed for all the foods they offer to insure they are organic and from a trusted source. I would also expect them to not purchase from countries that hurt America in anyway. For me to continue to pay more for food, I expect more. It's just that simple.

antonia cyrus says …

Is the chicken you sell processed in China?

Tahwu Chou says …

Check this article. We need to double check the source of product before purchasing it.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ANTONIA - We know where all the chicken in our meat case is raised and processed. All chicken farms are required to be certified to the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system every 15 months. And we require annual third party audits of all chicken slaughter and further processing facilities. Our chicken suppliers for our North American stores are in the US and Canada, no facilities are located in China.

eileen shumilla says …

Was Olivia Vegetables Triple washed, bought out by Whole Foods and if so, where on the label does it say vegetables are produced? Distributed in Texas but does not say where vegetables are grown, why is that not listed on the package? Will I get an answer, a couple of years back I emailed Whole Foods a question regarding where was W. F. shrimp from and never received an answer? Is Shrimp from Indonesia? WF. seems to be changing it's core values. Why not Maine Shrimp from healthier waters bought by WF. Healthy? Prices I assume. Thank You Eilejen Shumilla

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@EILEEN - Since our buying is done at the store/regional level it would be best to ask your local store where that specific vendor is based. The only Olivia's Vegetables I was able to find online is an organic vendor based in MA (http://www.oliviasorganics.org/). In regards to the shrimp and fish vendors, this will also differ between stores since our buying is decentralized. Your local store will be happy to let you know where they source shrimp and other fish options from.

Jakw says …

Most informed consumers would rather eat non-organic food than produce grown and processed in China. If you have ever been to a farm in China, you would too. Clearly you have not.

neko says …

will you please do not import fruits and vegetables from china.

Jonathan says …

After reading that entire report from the USDA, our concerns as consumers are given even more validation. While organic methods are complied with, they are also largely irrelevant in a toxic environmental nightmare like China. Nearly all of China's groundwater is contaminated with all types of industrial runoff and waste. There are no environmental protection laws to prevent this. The USDA report does not include any testing for the resulting heavy metal and other contamination. Food can be grown using organic methods, but if the soil and water used are contaminated with industrial waste, and the air is full of smog, those poisons persist in the final product.

T.W. Zhue says …

WOW! What a position for Whole Foods to take, in spite of all real on the ground information coming out from China in regards to NOT eating food grown in China, despite it loosely being labeled "organic , despite the large pool of evidence (even problems with products sold at WF, e.g. brown rice heavy metals). Furthermore, Whole Foods sells you here the idea which to simply trust the people doing this work there, yet everyone knows that has pandemic problems on the field and they should know that. Everyone can give a nice tour to buyers. The reality is that even if in the rare instance you might source truly organic food from China, the massive issue of ongoing and out of control pollution in ground, water, air, and agri products is going to make the point useless. China is a wonderful place with great people. However that doesn't mean it has major problems. So much that China's citizenry that can, move out of China. China's politicians have to put in place draconian lawmaking to prevent importation of foreign foods to their growing middle class because they don't want to purchase food grown in China, because they know what's going on. Yet Whole Foods here tries to sell you a false story to simply "trust" them despite the true realities. WF needs to be a leader in NOT taking the cheap-and-charge-high-profit model, and truly be on mission and not sell you "organic" food products from China. Be Warned!

Bruce Jones says …

Noticed a bad link in 3rd paragraph with the word "right here" Thanks

Roland Stodola says …

I just want to be reassured that any meat product I buy from Whole Foods is NOT raised and/or processed in China. I will pay as much as I have to and don't trust comments such as "our vendor partners in China have the same commitment to quality as our suppliers in the US and the rest of the world". Don't want anything I eat from China whether send there to be processed or is raised and processed there.

Missy says …

I don't trust ANY FOOD MADE IN CHINA -- even if it labeled 'organic'. Their own citizens don't trust their own country's food products!!! Rumors of plastic rice, tainted baby food, poisonous pet foods etc make it hard for me to believe that I can consume anything from that country without worry. From now on I will be diligent about checking labels on all products purchased from WF. I will also warn all that I know to be careful and check labels for 'Made in China'. There are millions of us who will not chance our health and well being to the greed, nastiness and danger of 'Made in China' products. Shame on you for believing that you can trust them.

Carmen says …

I'm going to chime in and say what my mom says about trying to avoid foods from china. You can't. If you don't want to eat foods grown in china, don't go out for dinner. And some herbal medicine products, only from china will work the best. Ex, mandarin orange peels. Only chinese mandarins grown in china have the best medicinal properties. Anywhere else it has diliuted properties. It all boils down to getting to know the farmer who farms the goods and how he farms his property. And I think we should trust whole foods to get to know the farmer for us.

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