Food Safety Organic food from China

Published on July 7th, 2014 | by Jennifer Kaplan

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“Organic” Not As Healthful As You May Think

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Organic food from China

Organic foods may be tainted by heavy metal pollution regardless of anyones’ intentions. 

A post on Alternet.com titled, Food Labelled ‘Organic’ Is No Guarantee of Safety—Shocking Levels of Heavy Metals in Imported Food Highlight the Danger, has pointed out that if you don’t know where your organic food is coming from it may be tainted:

Irrespective of whether farming practices are organic or conventional practices are used, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil, water or air they can contaminate food and poison the people who consume it…Some heavy metals occur naturally in soil, but rarely at toxic levels, while human activities like mining, manufacturing and the use of synthetic materials like paint, and even some agricultural chemicals, can release heavy metals into the air and water, and from there they find their way to the soil. And once in the soil, heavy metals are virtually impossible to remove.

The post notes that China acknowledged last April that 20% of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development.

Why worry about heavy metals in organic foods in far away places like China?

In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the popular radar since September 2011, when Dr.Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.

At the time, Oz was highly critisized for being alarmist by a number of experts and authorities, including the FDA, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor, Richard Besser, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” comparing it to yelling fire in a crowded theater.

However, A few weeks later, FDA admitted it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.

And its not just China. For example, the post says that the FDA has import alerts set for companies around the world. The products of these companies, while regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of the action level, continue to be imported.

The post, which is worth reading in its entirety, has this recommendation for consumers:
Local, as in American-grown produce, will trump labels such as “organic,” if the food in question was grown in a potentially polluted place.
And since not all food is required by law to be labeled with a country of origin (foods purchased abroad and processed in the U.S., for example, are exempt, as are foods containing multiple ingredients):
…the safest way to confirm a food item didn’t come from China is to look for labels that announce where it is from. If no information is given, avoid it.

Photo: Shutterstock.com



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About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .



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  • Rl

    Your article regarding the FDA and Dr. Oz is totally inaccurate. The FDA did subsequent testing and totally discredited Dr. Oz and his faulty testing. See below FDA’s response.
    Why don’t you write about that or did you not do your research?

    You guys just read something or hear something from Dr. Oz and assume its true. You have no expertise on food science so please do not write articles and pretend you are an expert.

    Dr. Oz has totally lost credibility in the scientific community as he recently got grilled by Congress about a number of boastful claims he made about dietary supplements that have no medical or scientific backing.

    http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm271746.htm

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