Organic food worries

Updated: 2011-11-03 15:10

(China Daily)

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With one food safety scandal after another, the authenticity of organic certification labels is now in the spotlight, following a Xinhua news agency report that such labels can be easily bought.

This means food labeled organic may not be.

Xinhua reported that even supposedly organic food such as vegetables from producers that claim not to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides cannot be entirely trusted. The report quoted "organic" farmers who acknowledged that they sometimes use fertilizers or pesticides that are banned for organic food in order to boost their output.

Recently the world famous Walmart was caught up in such a scandal when one of its stores was found to be selling ordinary pork as organic pork, with a price tag several times higher.

When neither the departments that issue the certificates nor the suppliers can be trusted, not just the consumers and the producers of real organic food are victims. The entire organic food industry will turn out to be the biggest loser.

The establishment of the State Council Food Safety Committee in January, 2010, and the creation of the State Food Safety Evaluation Center in October this year points to the fact that the State Council has attached great importance to food safety.

But similar to almost all the food safety scandals that have occurred before, the organic food scandal involves the grassroots certification departments, the producers and retailers, some of whom are willing to stick organic food labels onto non-organic food in order to make more money.

So the problem is how to make everyone - the producers, the retailers and all concerned - play by rules and punish those who violate the rules. The authorities interviewed said the problem was due to loopholes in supervision in areas where the supervision by different departments overlaps.

But it is unlikely that such loopholes in supervision are alone to blame for the malpractices in the organic food market.

If administrations of industry and commerce at all levels had done a good job, there would not have been the use of expired organic food labels in the supermarkets. Had the agriculture departments at local levels done a good job, farmers in some organic food production bases would not have dared use banned fertilizer and pesticides. And had the local department of health fulfilled their duty of making sure that all organic food entering the markets was strictly tested, it would have been impossible for non-organic food to enter. And had a supermarket treasured its reputation and strictly followed rules, it would not have allowed unqualified or fake organic food into its market.

Why is it that none of these departments seems to be functioning as it should when fake organic food can reach consumers' dining tables?

This is the problem that needs a solution.

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