Your Certified Organic Food Just Might Rely Upon Chinese Imports

As policy would have it, our nation’s farmbelt keeps ramping up corn production to feed our automobiles, while our organic meat producers are left scrambling for a source of organic soybeans by importing them from China. Organic soybean imports more than doubled last year, with import growth coming from China, India, Canada, and Argentina.

Suppliers of organic milk, poultry, and other meats are concerned because the growth rate of farmers who are adding organic row crop acres is falling behind growing demand by the consumer. Organic fruit and vegetable production here in the U.S., which is nothing to boast about when you look at the graph which follows, is growing more quickly than the organic row crops.

While organic food sales in the U.S. grew 35 percent in five years, production lags.

Let’s blame the hassle factor. Let’s blame the economics.

Farmers choose pesticides and GM seeds over organic because it takes three years to become certified organic, there is a paperwork burden, and there are greater risks. Potential income during the two required transition years is sacrificed. In recent years, the economics just does not entice the farmer to grow organic row crops instead of conventional, as inputs and labor for organic costs more while yields are lower. In addition, crop insurance has favored the conventional grower. Last month, however, the USDA announced that it will make crop insurance more available and friendly to organic producers in 2014.

The next graph shows the rapid adoption rate of GM soybeans by farmers in the U.S. since 1996. (GM does not qualify as organic.)

And then there is the consumer to worry about. Does the consumer trust imported organic soybeans from China as the missing link to his or her organic food product? There is a moral conflict between eating organic meat or stir fry only made possible by importing soy or corn from China, presenting the consumer with a dilemma.

Unless, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.

6 thoughts on “Your Certified Organic Food Just Might Rely Upon Chinese Imports

  1. Mischa Popoff

    The biggest problem for American organic farmers is the lack of field testing in the USDA’s National Organic Program. Once overseas suppliers figured out that all they had to do was fill out a bunch of paperwork in order to gain access to the most lucrative market for organic food in the whole world, that’s when the number of organic farms here in America began stagnating.

  2. Carolyn Koenig

    I am all for organically grown produce. I have read about the health issues of pesticides, insecticides, etc. and would love to find a way to eat healthier produce. However, it is an unregulated area and there has been discussion on what “organic” entails. Could you direct me to a website that discusses the guidelines for organic producers? Who is responsible for ensuring these guidelines are followed?

    1. K. McDonald Post author

      Go here:

      Carolyn, you are exactly right. The process of certification is difficult and doesn’t always make sense to a producer, and, in turn, the consumer. That is why many of your local produce farmers may have opted out of the official certification. The best thing is to get to know a grower who you trust locally, and then belong to his or her CSA or support them at your nearest farmers market. Good luck!

      (Ha. I am delighted to have this message from my dear friend.)

  3. andrea cole

    I live in Canada and fortunately we don`t have to rely on Chinese imports, I don`t think I would trust Chinese imports labelled organic as actually being organic. Honestly unless I know exactly where my produce came from I tend to be skeptical of organic labeling I think becoming certified organic is so difficult and time consuming that corners inevitably get cut.


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