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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




Bellbiv says ...
Good information to know!
03/15/2012 11:24:28 AM 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
03/17/2012 4:54:07 PM CDT
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.
03/17/2012 5:03:12 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
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
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
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?????????????
03/18/2012 5:52:02 AM CDT
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.
03/18/2012 6:40:24 AM CDT
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.
03/18/2012 9:43:32 PM CDT
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.
03/18/2012 9:51:25 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