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LC1

Do You Mind Buying Chinese Agricultural Products?

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Hmmm, I don't want to appear culturally insensitive, but it occurred to me recently that China is one of the least environmentally careful places on the face of the planet, and yet I am probably eating tons of food cultivated in its heavy metal-laden soil.

I was trying to buy hemp seeds recently (for culinary purposes, before anyone starts) and came across an article about the organic certification system in China basically being one big fraud - the soil and groundwater is so irredeemably polluted that just by not adding any more chemicals it really doesn't mean that the food isn't going to be massively contaminated. Added to that the suggestion of fraudulent activity in which organic certifications can be easily bought, and that EU/US certification boards don't have the resources to go inspecting Chinese farm co-operatives (and may get little brown envelopes themselves to ensure that the relevant wheels are greased?!) so actually the farmers just do whatever they want anyway, it all leaves me feeling a bit queasy as to what I may be eating on a regular basis (all the hemp seeds and flax seeds that I eat daily seem to be grown in China).

And to top it off, now that I have decided to try and cut out Chinese products from my diet, it seems that many food labels are incredibly opaque with respects to the country of origin (didn't that used to be a legal requirement?!), and often it just says 'non-EU agriculture', which I can't help feeling is a poorly disguised figleaf for 'Grown in PRC'.

I recently decided to only buy honey that states its country of origin for similar reasons.

Anyone else given this any thought? Is there any way of knowing for sure where your food comes from if it only has this vague kind of labelling?

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Basically, where links between food and plate are distant, emotionally as well as in miles you take a risk every time you put something in your mouth. B)

I think you've neatly hit the nail on the head, and this is what concerns me...

The burgeoning Chinese middle classes (who are aware of the extent of the pollution) are prepared to pay up to 300% extra for 'organic', apparently, so there is clearly a lot of money at stake here.

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You know what bankers are like? Well farmers are the same. The common denominator - they're people, acting with Adam Smith's invisible hand of self interest to the fore.

Taken as a group, people generally will try and get away with something for nothing - in this case putting on a label to command a premium price without having to bear the costs.

Next step, will they be prepared to put your life at risk. How much does a random Chinese bloke in far off China care about what we would consider to be 'harm' and he probably doesn't consider to be such because life is significantly harder where he is from. And how likely is he to be caught and the authorities to care about you?

I wouldn't trust our own farmers and food processing industry as far as I could throw them. The fact they are under our jurisdiction and our checks gives some solace but by no means complete. Witness the animal trading farce revealed by the last foot and mouth epidemic. Or the completely avoidable and disgusting mad cow outbreak.

Basically, where links between food and plate are distant, emotionally as well as in miles you take a risk every time you put something in your mouth. B)

we were told, back in the 60s, that the Asian doesnt think like we do, and that life there was cheap.

I wonder if they think like that about us....

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I had cause to mention the 2008 Chinese milk scandal recently in another thread...

wiki: 2008 Chinese milk scandal

Of course, there have been similar scandals in Europe (Toxic oil syndrome). So I'm not trying to pretend that deliberate adulteration of food with toxic cr@p is unique to China. However, there are good reasons to suspect that quality control and honest labelling is currently less well-embedded in Chinese production than we're used to.

As for vague labelling, there are valid reasons for being vague if you, as is common with many importers, source your commodities from multiple origins. So, they're not all trying to hide something. A fair few may be though.

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Is any 'organic' certification worth spit?

Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University

The Myth of Organic Superiority: "Organic products are safer than chemicals"

The Reality

Before we can understand the “organic vs. chemical” controversy we need to clarify a few terms:

• Chemical: General dictionaries aren’t really helpful with this definition. What is important to realize is that everything on earth, natural or otherwise, is composed of chemicals.

• Organic: In chemistry, this refers to any chemical compound, natural or synthetic, that contains carbon.

• Organic farming: The chemical definition of organic does not apply in this context. Instead, organic farming is partially defined as using only naturally occurring, rather than synthetic, chemicals. Therefore, chemical-free and organic are oxymorons, whether in a chemical context or in relation to organic farming. In a Google search, I did not find one dot-edu site with the phrase “chemical free organic;” I did find 304 dot-com sites, however.

• Pesticide: Any chemical, natural or synthetic, with the ability to kill a pest organism. Herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides kill plants, insects, and fungi, respectively. The use of terms “chemical free” or “non-chemical” in reference to any pesticide is illogical. No dot-edu sites contain such language (except anecdotally), but 45 dot-com sites do.

. . .

living organisms in a landscape don’t distinguish between nitrate from compost or from a bag of conventional fertilizer. It’s simply a usable form of nitrogen. The other components of nutritional amendments might be beneficial, or neutral, or even harmful. All components of conventional fertilizers are listed on the bag; we have no such information on compost content. Furthermore, if too much of either nutrient source is added to a landscape, then excess nutrients will leach away from the site and increase the nutrient load elsewhere.

. . .

So why do we think that “organic” is synonymous with “safe?” It’s true that naturally-derived, organic products have a low environmental persistence. Nature is not benign, however; microbes, plants, and other organisms manufacture toxins, mutagens, and carcinogens as defensive strategies. To assume that products derived from biological sources can never pose a threat to human or ecosystem health is misguided and dangerous.

The Bottom Line

• Be conservative in what chemicals you add to a landscape, regardless of their source.

• Any organic substance, natural or synthetic, can cause environmental problems when added in excess of what a landscape system can absorb and utilize.

• It’s not important whether a chemical is natural or synthetic. What is important is knowing the properties (like toxicity and environmental persistence) of chemicals we apply to landscapes.

http://puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/index.html

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As for vague labelling, there are valid reasons for being vague if you, as is common with many importers, source your commodities from multiple origins. So, they're not all trying to hide something. A fair few may be though.

I realise that products can be from multiple sources, but I remember that labels used to have the simple format of "Product of X' or 'Product of more than one country'. This 'non-EU' thing is weird. I don't see that it would be too onerous on retailers to state something along the lines of "Product of one or more of the following countries: X, Y, Z'. But then that would be far too transparent wouldn't it! :rolleyes:

Lo-fi: I'm not a chemist, so I really can't comment on the relative merits or otherwise of organic v manmade chemical farming, but it's more about being confident that it's "what it says on the tin", so to speak. Yes, I may eat an organic carrot and suffer ill-effects from some weird (but 100% natural and organic) botulinum bacterium, but that is my choice to make, dammit! :)

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What I can tell you is that in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics specific farms were created to provide the athletes with organic food because the quality elsewhere was not acceptable.

I can't give you the particluar link as it would take some time to find (and it may not be still available) having been rooted out during the years I was tracking H5N1. However, it seems these farms are now being used for the elites.

http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130715000001&cid=1503

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I recently decided to only buy honey that states its country of origin for similar reasons.

Anyone else given this any thought? Is there any way of knowing for sure where your food comes from if it only has this vague kind of labelling?

I know where my honey has come from!

You could look for really local honey. It's miles better than the stuff at the supermarket although may cost you more.

If the seeds grow then the plants would be probably be fine.

To sell seeds in the UK you need to have a licence which ensures good germination rates and quality of seed.

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I actively try to avoid any agricultural products from China for the reasons mentioned in the OP.

When the origin isn't declared on a product I like, then I often email the importer asking where the product comes from and when they reply China I respond by saying that unfortunately I will no longer buy their product for this reason.

If more people start doing this it will force importers to stop importing agricultural products from China and writing an email doesn't require much effort.

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I try to avoid even EU produce. Not easy.

Me too. I will only buy UK meat, free range or outdoor bred as far as poss, ditto eggs, and UK veg, though have to make partial exception for eg Spanish celery in winter.

Recently I have found something called 'flowering sprouts' in both Asda and Waitrose - all from Lincs. V nice too, and a welcome change from the usual winter veg.

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Forgot to add: beware of sneaky labelling!

Recently I bought a can of organic white Cannellini beans that was labelled 'product of Italy', but then it also had a 'non-EU organic' label.

I emailed the importer asking what that meant and whether the beans were grown in Italy and the reply was that 'product of Italy simply means the canning was done in Italy but the beans were grown in China. Needless to say I no longer buy those canned beans.

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I actively try to avoid any agricultural products from China for the reasons mentioned in the OP.

When the origin isn't declared on a product I like, then I often email the importer asking where the product comes from and when they reply China I respond by saying that unfortunately I will no longer buy their product for this reason.

If more people start doing this it will force importers to stop importing agricultural products from China and writing an email doesn't require much effort.

I like this idea. I also avoid from China

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Forgot to add: beware of sneaky labelling!

Recently I bought a can of organic white Cannellini beans that was labelled 'product of Italy', but then it also had a 'non-EU organic' label.

I emailed the importer asking what that meant and whether the beans were grown in Italy and the reply was that 'product of Italy simply means the canning was done in Italy but the beans were grown in China. Needless to say I no longer buy those canned beans.

I think you will find many foods are like that, grown elsewhere assembled here leading people to believe it is wholly British, when it is not..... ;)

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I think you will find many foods are like that, grown elsewhere assembled here leading people to believe it is wholly British, when it is not..... ;)

Go to the local farmers market, meet the grower, look them in the eye and give them your cash if you like the look of their produce. Still not 100% trustworthy but better than most other options.

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Go to the local farmers market, meet the grower, look them in the eye and give them your cash if you like the look of their produce. Still not 100% trustworthy but better than most other options.

+1

I will not knowingly buy any food from China.

If the label isn't clear, I don't buy.

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Forgot to add: beware of sneaky labelling!

Recently I bought a can of organic white Cannellini beans that was labelled 'product of Italy', but then it also had a 'non-EU organic' label.

I emailed the importer asking what that meant and whether the beans were grown in Italy and the reply was that 'product of Italy simply means the canning was done in Italy but the beans were grown in China. Needless to say I no longer buy those canned beans.

It's shocking that this kind of thing is legal.

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I actively try to avoid any agricultural products from China for the reasons mentioned in the OP.

When the origin isn't declared on a product I like, then I often email the importer asking where the product comes from and when they reply China I respond by saying that unfortunately I will no longer buy their product for this reason.

If more people start doing this it will force importers to stop importing agricultural products from China and writing an email doesn't require much effort.

I'm going to try this from now on. Again, I'm shocked that they don't have to state country of origin on the label.

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Go to the local farmers market, meet the grower, look them in the eye and give them your cash if you like the look of their produce. Still not 100% trustworthy but better than most other options.

Of course, where possible this is always a great option. But certain food items that I want are not grown here... I know, first world problems and all that. I could always grow my own hemp seeds I suppose, a friend of mine knows quite a lot about growing those particular flowers.

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+1

I will not knowingly buy any food from China.

If the label isn't clear, I don't buy.

I have bought noodles from China for the sake of the quaint instructions, inc. 'take out with chopsticks for a cold bathing, '. ending with '...and it is a dish of delicious noodle.' I forget the rest.

Noodles not as good as Sharwoods or Asda's, though.

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I had cause to mention the 2008 Chinese milk scandal recently in another thread...

wiki: 2008 Chinese milk scandal

Of course, there have been similar scandals in Europe (Toxic oil syndrome). So I'm not trying to pretend that deliberate adulteration of food with toxic cr@p is unique to China. However, there are good reasons to suspect that quality control and honest labelling is currently less well-embedded in Chinese production than we're used to.

As for vague labelling, there are valid reasons for being vague if you, as is common with many importers, source your commodities from multiple origins. So, they're not all trying to hide something. A fair few may be though.

Always bear this in mind when you hear people prattling on about the cost of complying with red tape...

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