Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

 

130 Comments

Comments

Alex B says ...
Here is a comment from your former customer. I used to be buying your products until today. You can keep all of your "Made outside of US" products to yourself. I don't trust you.
03/29/2010 1:52:48 PM CDT
miriam harel says ...
my confidence in the USDA was not very high recently, given funding and man power issues.But organics from China? not a chance that I will buy them in the foreseeable future,given the "transparency " practiced there.
03/30/2010 8:26:59 AM CDT
genevieve morgan says ...
I wonder, if Whole Foods is so confident about their 'organic' imports from China, why do they hide where the food comes from in small print on the back of the package? This is just an outright scam. It is shocking to me that executives at WF are willing to play both ends against the middle. They buy cheap, unregulated produce from China and charge high-end, gourmet, organic prices at home. Only one entity comes out on top in that equation and it is not the US consumer or farmer. So much for the lofty mission; personally, I can't wait for my CSA allotment.
03/30/2010 10:10:11 AM CDT
Jim says ...
I travel to China's agricultural area 3 times a year. So, unless you see it with your own eyes, it is not fair to say they are any less transparent or unregulated than any organic or "locally" grown produce here in the U.S. If anything, the industry is more regulated and companies like Whole Foods require stricter standards from China. As for the font size on the packaging, most of the packaging I see is pretty consistent with the Country of Origin and the Ingredients etc. Of course USA producers should proudly and boldly display that their product is from the USA because it is a selling point. Supporting local farmers is all good. So is supporting organic agriculture from China or any other place. We are trying to raise up the small farmer, reduce chemicals in the environment, and make the planet a better place. Spending your food dollars on CSAs is commendable. But why shouldn't a lower income person be afforded the same benefits of eating organic foods if products produced in China offer an affordable price point? It a healthy food issue and an environmental issue, not an "Us" versus "Them" issue.
04/01/2010 4:37:17 PM CDT
Elizabeth says ...
I think it is time we take a look at the real cost of cheap food. Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to eating alot more food than other generations at a relatively inexpensive price. Retailers all over are chasing the demands of the American consumer. They go to other countries to bring in fruits and vegetables at a cheaper price that can be grown domestically. We all pay a price for that. Yes, we take a chance when we buy baby formula or dog food that we can innocently poison our family. It is time we wake up to the price of cheap food. How about we put our AMERICAN farmers back to work, and we pay the real price. While we are at it, perhaps we should be looking at quality and not quantity of what we put in our mouths. As Bob Dylan said, The Times Are Changing! Retailers fill what they think WE want to buy, take RESPONSIBILITY.
04/05/2010 8:05:42 AM CDT
Jim says ...
Elizabeth, thank you for bringing up the problem of too much cheap food available in this country - I will get to that below. With regard to the pet food and baby formula issues - there is no excuse for what happened, and that behavior is deplorable, just as it is when U.S. Manufacturers of Peanut Butter, Canned Tomatoes or Ground Beef knowingly sell product that is no good. Unfortunately, there are bad players that do these things. It is not right to condemn an entire industry (or country) because of them. The abundance of cheap food in this country is a very valid point, and the World Health Organization (WHO)has published quite a lot on this subject. As Michael Pollen points out in "Food Inc.", 'How is it that you can buy a 99-cent cheeseburger but not even a head of broccoli?' The food that low income people can afford is often cheap, industrialized, mass produced, and inexpensive according to the WHO. Because these calories are subsidized, we end up with a supermarket in which the least healthy calories are the cheapest. And the most healthy calories are the most expensive. That, in the simplest terms, is the root of the obesity epidemic for the poor. The biggest prediction of obesity is income. What is one of the WHO's recommendations for countering this issue? Increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts. So increasing the opportunity for the consumption of more fruits and vegetables is a good thing. I am sure Bob Dylan eats a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and would agree with that. Jim
04/05/2010 1:42:43 PM CDT
Christine Myre says ...
My family and I have chosen to no longer shop at whole foods until the Chinese produce is out of the aisles. period.
04/08/2010 10:30:59 AM CDT
Brad says ...
I am a loyal team member at Whole Foods, but I was appalled to discover that many of the frozen vegetables under the 365 Organic label are from China. While the carbon footprint and exploitation of workers is of concern, that is something that is difficult to avoid with most products (Target). With food though, that is a completely different story. Organic food should be safe and healthy! If this organic produce is being watered with contaminated water (water not safe for people to drink) and breathing polluted air, this is contradictory to the entire reason for choosing organics! Not to mention all of the safety concerns China has had with toys, pet food, etc. How can we trust them with organic foods? Whole Foods, SWITCH TO US SUPPLIERS!!!
04/08/2010 9:55:08 PM CDT
Jim says ...
Brad, You are right, Organic food should be safe and healthy! The fact is, there are very good farmers and producers of safe, healthy, and yes, organic vegetables and fruits in China. As mentioned in several posts above, the standards in China meet or exceed anything produced in the U.S. or elsewhere. Look at the scruntiny China is getting, just on this blog. Dont you think if there were some recent issues with the organic produce having pesticides etc. this would already have been big news? Regarding water: Water on our organic farms is taken from deep wells. The water is clean and suitable to drink. Regarding carbon footprint: even though the “food miles” represented by ocean shipping is an insignificant amount as compared to other inputs, even in taking ocean freight into account, industrialized production as done in most western style operations, dwarfs the the carbon foot print of ag in China. For instance, the villagers live near their fields and either walk or ride bicycles to their farms. Everything is done by hand with zero mechanization. On industrial farms in the United States, everything from planting, to cultivating to harvesting is done with tractors and combines. If you have ever driven by a field in California or Florida that is being harvested, so will see a row of 20 to 50 cars owned by the workers harvesting the field. In China, you may see one or two cars and a shed full of bicycles at a production facility. It is just a different scale and way of doing things there. The single greatest way to reduce the carbon footprint from food is to reduce your consumption of red meat. If we all ate 1 less meal per week of red meat, this would do far more than switching 100% to locally consumed produce - look it up. Regarding labor: Local farmers from the villages we work with have a direct stake in organic vegetables we sell. This is confirmed by a Fair Trade audit by BRC. Having worked for the U.S. Labor department doing migrant farm labor advocacy in the United States, I have seen good farm employers in the US and terrible ones. Again, you cannot paint one indusuty with one brush because of a few bad players. Jim
04/11/2010 9:21:54 AM CDT
Carmen Amparo says ...
You my have legitimate doubts of the capability of your own government to enforce your organic regulations on food coming from China or else where. And you may feel likewise about the motives for Whole Food Market to promote it. But to think that in the whole country of China there's no food of quality of organic farms and all food is crap or poor or toxic or contaminated or incapable of reach US standards just because it comes from China is the raciest thing.
04/12/2010 12:05:12 AM CDT
Brad says ...
Jim, China sure is getting a lot of scrutiny. Where do you think that comes from? Are people just making it up? No, it's based on fact and experience, as I explain below. Other countries aren't getting the scrutiny that China is getting for a good reason – they do not have the problems China has. I am not trying to say that China's organic produce has pesticides. It may though, that is hard to say, considering that the Chinese government is auditing the farms, not the USDA or Quality Assurance International, or another agency without a stake in the results. He comes down to “he said she said that he said this is organic.” Where's the actual report? Carmen, the capability of the USDA to enforce organic standards is of particular concern in China due to the government having such a strong role in the farming AND the regulation. Also, thinking that food is not up to US organic standards because it comes from China is not racist – it's based on fact and experience. With over a billion people, China has serious pollution problems, which results in polluted air and water. The lower cost of living and higher level of government involvement in business also mean that money-saving techniques (also known as contaminants) are popular (such as using human fecal matter as fertilizer). Even if the water used for farming comes from “deep wells,” it is still the same polluted and contaminated water. Regardless, if the local water is contaminated, the soil is contaminated. Safe foods do not grow in contaminated soil. China has a bad record with safety. Lead in children's toys, melamine and other chemicals in pet food (resulting in about 8500 pet deaths), and the list goes on. Chinese products simply have more safety concerns. There is a reason that audit information is not available with Chinese organics. Whole Foods Market uses QAI to confirm organic integrity of products sold under its store label, as per USDA Organic Standards. QAI then hires another undisclosed agency (under the Chinese government) to confirm the organic integrity. The Chinese government has a large stake in the farms, so the audit agencies are likely to look the other way when things are not up to standards. The problem is that the information simply is not public. If I want to see the report showing which agency directly confirmed the organic integrity of, say, 365 Organic Thai Stir Fry Vegetables, I would not be able to. They are not available to the public. So we are trusting QAI to evaluate these audits that we cannot see ourselves, from an agency we do not know about, from a farm that is not disclosed... If there is nothing to hide, then why is this information hidden? This has nothing to do with “race.” It is not that a Chinese worker cannot produce safe, quality, organic food. It is that no one can positively produce safe, quality, organic food in a country like China. Chinese products can't be be considered safe. We have had too many bad experiences with Chinese products before, and the lack of oversight with Chinese organics is of no assurance. So I would like to know this: If Whole Foods Market is so “sure” of these Chinese organics, why not do a survey? Ask WFM customers how they feel about their organic products being from China. Give them a list of pros and cons of Chinese organics. Let them decide. The answer will be obvious: WFM shoppers do not want Chinese organics! WFM shoppers want safe food, that's why they shop at WFM!
04/12/2010 11:28:31 AM CDT
Jim says ...
Brad, what you are saying is based on "facts" is pure conjecture at best, and is has no basis in knowledge or awareness of what is actually happening in China. Anything sold in the United States as Organic regardless of what country it is grown is under the USDA standards and is certified as organic by an independent audit supervised by the USDA. And this is just the start. I cannot speak for every producer in China, but our facility is certified by GlobalGap and BRC (British Retail Consortium). You can learn more about these standards on the net. In my many posts, I never once mention race as a factor, but I will say that any issues from China get far more negative press than similar issues in the United States. For instance, have you ever heard of "Fertilizergate"? Just a couple of short years ago, the major organic fertilizer companies that sell 95% of the United States organic growers were found to be cheating and their fertilizer was not organic. Here is a link to a story about that: http://naturalfoodsmerchandiser.com/tabId/119/itemId/3615/California-faces-organic-Fertilizergate.aspx Under the USDA rules, all of the products grown with this fertilizer could have been ruled not organic and there would have had been a massive recall. The industry and the USDA made an exception and allowed any products grown with the fertilizer to maintain their organic standards. If this had been in China - I think this news would be all over this blog. As for pollutants, it is a shame that China is achieving Western Standards in this category! They emit about the same level of pollutants as the US with about 4 times the population. As an industry, that is what we are working to reduce as a common goal. Again, it is not an "Us versus Them". If we increase the amount of organic produce grown and consumed in the world, we are creating a healthier planet and population. Jim
04/12/2010 2:11:38 PM CDT
Vanessa says ...
Other people can eat what they want and if they wish they can purchase organics from China. I don't! for many reasons. The point is as a consumer I have the right to know what I am buying and how and where I spend my money. You are loosing loyal clients and you are taking advantage of the trust we gave you.
04/21/2010 12:28:02 PM CDT
Jim says ...
Vanessa, isn't that what I have consistently written in the blog - that consumers should vote with their dollars? I do not understand the latter comment about having the right to know where your product is from. All of the products from China are labeled with their country-of-origin. In our case, the font is the same size as the other legal requirements on the package. Maybe the people taking advantage are not the ones selling organic products from China, but those that would lead you to believe there is something wrong with that. Jim
05/11/2010 2:26:06 PM CDT
SHAREBEAR says ...
MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE VERY LITTLE MONEY LEFT OVER AFTER WE PAY OUR BILLS FOR FOOD. WE HAVE BEEN EATING ORGANIC FOR 5+ YEARS. THE ONLY TIME WE STRAY IS IF WE GO OUT TO A RESTRAUNT, WHICH IS RARE. OUR DAUGHTER IS 2&1/2, SHE DID NOT EAT ANYTHING WITHOUT THE USDA ORGANIC STAMP UNTILL HER SECOND BIRTHDAY. WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE WHOLE FOODS WITHIN REACH. I HAVE TO DRIVE 45 MIN TO GET THEIR AND 45 MIN BACK HOME BUT THE COST OF THEIR ORGANICS ARE WORTH IT. I WAS SO SUPRISED TO HERE ABOUT FOOD FROM CHINA I HAVE A SMALL BUDGET AND BUY WHAT IS CHEEPEST OR ON SALE AND A LOT OF TIME 365 HAPPENS TO BE THE BRAND WE BRING HOME. NOW I FEEL UNSURE ABOUT PURCHACING THESE ITEMS. I JUST NOW READ THIS REPORT. I AM DISAPOINTED BECAUSE WFM IS KNOWEN FOR LOCAL GROWEN AND ORGANICS I CHECK LABLES FOR THE USDA ORGANIC STAMP AND FAT GRAMS BUT I NEVER THOUGHT TO LOOK FOR MADE IN USA ON SOME OF THEIR FOOD, JUST FRESH PRODUCE. I BELIVE IN ORGANICS I EAT LESS AND MAKE CHEEP DINERS INSTEAD OF THE 5*** ONES I WOULD RATHER HAVE IN ORDER TO BUY ORGANICS. I SHOP AT WFM BECAUSE I THOUGHT THAT I COULD PUT THINGS IN MY CART HOME AND BODY WITH LESS WORRIE BECAUSE YOU COULD TRUST THEM. I EXPECT ALDI TO HAVE "BAD" FOOD OR ITEMS FROM CHINA AND FULL OF PESTIDES BECAUSE THEY CLAIM LOW LOW PRICES NOT GRADE A FOOD. ALSO YOU USUALLY GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR AT A SAVE A LOT OR DISCOUNT FOOD MARKET. I REALY ENJOY WHOLE FOODS THEY ARE SO HELPFUL, ORGANIZED, AND CLEAN. THEY SEEM TO MAKE GOING TO THE MARKET LESS OF A CHORE AND MORE OF AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE. I WILL KEEP SHOPPING AT WFM. I HOPE THE 365 BRAND WILL COME AROUND TO MORE BEING GROWEN AND PRODUCED IN USA. TILL THEN I WILL HAVE TO SPEND MORE TIME READING THE LABLES AND BUY LESS FOOD FROM OTHER BRANDS FOR THE HIGHER COST. :-)ORGANIC OHIO MOM
05/22/2010 2:47:38 AM CDT
Rich says ...
I have been a loyal Whole Foods shopper for years, but Whole Foods justification for purchasing organic vegetables for the private label frozen vegetables is nothing more then corporate greed to increase profit margins and the value of their stock at the expense of their customers. Whole Foods, a company that has been ranked for years in the top 100 best companies to work for in the USA, supports a country, China that has and continues to have severe human rights violations fro their citizens. There are plenty of other 3rd world countries that Whole Foods could invest and source organic produce that do not have governments that suppress their people and their freedoms. The whole conversation about whether organic produce from China really meets USDA organic standards is valid, but why would a company that is the leader in the organic food movement and that values it's employees so much not take a stand that they will not purchase produce from China until they have proven they will change the freedoms for their citizens. Would Whole Foods except this kind of treatment for their own employees? At the end of the day when the rubber meets the road, Whole Foods is just like a typical public company that tells a good story be is driven by their shareholders for high returns and profitability, the same as WalMart and others like them. The question is does Whole Foods want to take a stand or compromise their values.
05/23/2010 3:50:17 PM CDT
Tammy says ...
I will NEVER purchase foods, supplements or herbs grown in China. Besides not being worth the risk, what about American farmers? Why don't we all just become a bunch of serfs and peasants? Locally grown food is better for our economy and better for our health. In addition, food that is shipped halfway around the world uses a lot of energy. How wasteful is that!!!! We had a thriving organic foods industry in this country prior to the USDA certification program. Like everything else that our government gets involved in, all it has done is make it very expensive to become certified as organic here, so now we are going to import our "organic" food from China.
06/03/2010 3:17:50 PM CDT
Rebecca Arnold says ...
I will not purchase anything from China. I agree that home grown is better, environmentally, politically and in general more economical. "Organic" in China could mean "night soil". I will not take a chance, I don't care how many "inspectors" have certified that the product is safe.
06/03/2010 9:35:32 PM CDT
Jim says ...
I really cannot understand some of the comments on this blog about China from people who have obviously not seen China's organic industry first-hand. The Organic Trade Association (http://www.ota.com/index.html) is the foremost proponent of developing the organic food industry in the world. Here are some comments from their recent visit to the organic growing area in China: What kind of "take-away" impression do you have following the tour with regard to organics from China? The most basic “take away” is that we truly are a global society and that increasing organic agriculture and products worldwide is good for everyone. The Chinese farmers we met were concerned about preventing pesticide drift from nearby conventional fields and effectively controlling weeds; and the Chinese consumers we talked to were looking for organic products for an enhanced food safety guarantee and to provide their families with healthy products. Overall, our conversations contained similar concerns and aspirations to what I’ve heard in the United States. What I encountered in China was a dynamic partnership between a group of committed growers, processors and distributors. Together, Jim and his team, have developed a sophisticated system, managed according to the strictest organic standards, that consumers can unequivocally trust. A full report about OTA's China tour will be in their August newsletter. Jim
06/08/2010 4:45:27 PM CDT
Rosemary Gibson says ...
The steps outlined pertain to 365 Everyday Value items. I am concerned about the bulk items, namely organic walnuts, and the chocolate-covered ginger which reportedly were sourced from China in 2008. What is the country of origin now for these products? And when whill Whole Foods label country of origin on its bulk items? Thank you.
06/15/2010 12:20:18 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Rosemary Our bulk items are purchased on the commodity market, which means that sources vary throughout the year. Also, each of our geographic regions handles their own bulk purchasing to ensure they are meeting their customers’ needs. So, your best bet is to ask your local store’s bulk team members for the sourcing on the products you are interested in. Not the most elegant solution but the best way to make sure you are getting an accurate answer. FYI, all of our 365 snack products (nuts, seeds, etc.) are labeled with their Country of Origin even though it’s not mandated by the government. Just keep in mind that if there is not a Country of Origin listed, it’s grown and packed in the USA. It’s only when it’s not from the USA that we list its source.
06/16/2010 1:58:42 PM CDT
Kathey B. says ...
I am very pleased to read the response from Whole Foods on the organic products from China. I believe it is right to question the ingredients and origin of what we eat. In this time of communication via the Internet, people can pass a large amount of negative, incorrect and critical information all over the world. I will continue to shop at Whole Foods. The quality and choice of products is incredible.
06/22/2010 2:55:19 PM CDT
Charles says ...
True, there are many people in China who want to live healthy lives, and also treat their customers with respect and integrity. There are many who do not, however, and simply checking does not work. Look what happened in the melamine in the milk case, even though they were partnering with a New Zealand company known for its healthy products. If someone wants to cheat, they can do it without too much risk. I have lived in China for twenty years, actually longer considering Hong Kong and Taiwan, nearly forty years, and have seen many, many cases where greed generated poor adhesion to standards. It is a case of trust, and Whole Foods corporate gobbledygook does not engender trust; just look at BP's press releases and blogs. The writers appear to come from the same school. Get back to reality and look at the results. Don't just look to the farms; look to the waters into which chemicals are dumped with impunity. Look at the hospitals where there is a flood of people entering with cancer. China has only one sixth of the world's population, yet over one fourth of the world's cancer according to a report in one of China's own newspapers. Visit the hospitals, check with friends; most have horrific stories of cancer. True, there are places in China less polluted; however, those places are disappearing rapidly with industrialization and with tourism. Places that I went twenty years ago even without hotels are now crowded with all of the trappings of modernity. Whole Foods has to get back to basics; engender trust by being in integrity with labeling and sourcing, not just barely meeting standards. After all, with John Mackey's previous use of his wife's reversed name to bash Wild Oats in blogs does not engender the level of trust that one would wish when dealing with one's health.
08/03/2010 12:19:21 PM CDT
Emma says ...
I am in Chicago and recently I went on a community garden tour where local communities grow their own food in vacant land/parks on membership basis (or so called CSA farm). Having read all the comments it helps me to understand why trust is the foundation for organic food business and how that may be elevated by scrutiny and transparency, which is somewhat lack of in China right now. I believe that situation has already been rapidly changing as the Chinese government and all industries in China took the opportunity of recession for business transformation and upgrading as well as more effective policy enforcement. It surely has a long way to go but positive changes have been made. I agree with Jim as he spoke with evidence and direct experience from China. It is always a good thing to have a different voice and opinion and to appreciate those that don't always agree with the consensus. I hope to see organic farm practice myself in China and find out the real truth! If anyone is interested in organic farming and business in China, please contact me at organicfood.china@gmail.com! Cheers, Emma
09/06/2010 1:51:55 PM CDT
dave tabor says ...
Thanks for labeling. Buy local means I will never buy from China knowingly. We have not been able to trust them with our toys and building materials, do you really think we can trust them with our food?
09/18/2010 6:39:09 PM CDT

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