Products from China
The regulatory framework
Consumer skepticism about foods from China generally involves concern about contaminated soil and water, and lax oversight on food safety and quality standards.
Is PCC skeptical about the integrity and safety of food products from China? The answer is a qualified "yes."
While there have been a number of well-publicized recalls of Chinese imports, none of them involved organic foods. PCC sells no fresh produce from China and very limited frozen produce from China — and all of it is certified organic.
Virtually all the imported produce at PCC — fresh and frozen — is certified organic. All imported organic products must meet the same USDA standards as domestically produced organic foods.
Prior to 2007, however, the USDA had conducted no on-site visits with organic certifying agents in China. In 2007, USDA announced it would begin making surprise visits to organic farming and processing operations in China and would check the records of several USDA-accredited certifiers operating there.
Now, in 2010, the new director of the USDA's National Organic Program is promising an "Age of Enforcement" and a matrix of penalties for violations of the rules and regulations. The new director also is promising increased staffing and oversight.
PCC expects these measures will add meaningful weight to the value of certified products from China.
Frozen vegetables from China
Some frozen, single-ingredient organic vegetables, such as those from Cascadian FarmŪ and Woodstock FarmsŪ, are labeled as products of China, as required by country of origin labeling laws. Other mixed organic vegetables from Cascadian Farm and Woodstock Farms are labeled voluntarily as products of China.
Manufacturers of multi-ingredient foods are not required to divulge the source of their ingredients and in many cases may not know the sources. There are no U.S. regulations for country of origin labeling for packaged, processed foods. It's likely that there are Chinese ingredients in many multi-ingredient convenience foods. So, regretfully, we don't always have the product information we want.