Kindly written for us, by FIELDS online supermarket, one of our organizational sponsors
Food safety. It’s not just an issue in China – it’s a worldwide problem. While China has had its fair share of food scandals, things have improved since the government passed tougher food safety laws in 2015. The after effect of these scandals is that Chinese customers have gotten more savvy and educated about food safety. This has caused the demand for sustainable, organic options to rise. As such, more and more organic farms are sprouting up around the country to meet this need.
While it might be different from what you’re used to at home, China’s organic certification is just as rigorous. Their standards are comparible to international standards of organic food certification. FIELDS believes that education about where your food comes from is a key component to helping customers make the best choices about their food. Read on to learn about the organic process in China.
Q: What does “organic” mean in China?
Organic farming is based on traditional, sustainable practices that have existed for millennia – sustainable farming in China has been recorded as long as 4,000 years ago.
Today, there are two main government organic certification agencies in China – the China Organic Food Certification Center (COFCC) and the Organic Food Development Center (OFDC).
OFDC was set up by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) in 1994 – SEPA is now called the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) – as the first Chinese certifier to be accredited by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO-65).
COFCC was set up by the Green Food Development Center in 2002. The COFCC is under the umbrella of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). Today, COFCC inspects about 30 percent of all organic farms and enterprises in China. They are also a certified training organization for organic product inspectors.
These agencies both cooperate with international organic organizations to promote trade of organic foods.
In addition to these, there are various other private certification firms, NGOs, and individual inspectors, all of which have to be accredited by China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA). The organic farms that FIELDS works with – including Foodpedia and Zhongsui – are certified by the Nanjing National Organic Certification Center, a subsidiary of OFDC.
Q: How are farms certified as organic?
The road to obtaining organic certification is a long one. Of course, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones or transgenic technology are prohibited, but for a new farm to earn the organic label it must go much further.
The first step is for the farm to replenish or ‘clean’ its soil for three years, during which time crops will be grown in rotation using only natural compost and natural pest control methods. Importantly, the farm must not sell any of the crops grown during this cleaning period – meaning that gaining organic certification clearly takes significant initial investment.
There should be no heavy industry, factory or nuclear power plant in the vicinity of the farm, an organic farm can also only use filtered water for irrigation.
If the farm fulfills all above criteria, auditors from the certification center will visit to conduct tests. On passing the test, the farm is certified organic for a period of one year only. The tests are then performed every subsequent year before the organic license can be renewed.
Q: How do I know if a product is really organic?
By law, all organic products should carry the organic label. But how to tell if it’s real or fake? This is an example of what an organic label looks like:
Simply scan the QR code to check the authenticity of the label: you’ll see the following information, which includes the name of the certification agency (highlighted in green), the certification number, the type of certification and more. In this example, one of FIELDS’ organic suppliers, Foodpedia, has been certified by the Nanjing National Organic Certification Center.
When you scan the QR code, you may also see the following screen. You need to input the organic number on the label (simply scratch away the grey area on the logo, with the Chinese characters 刮开涂层得有机码) and enter it in the first box on the screen. In the second box you need to enter the captcha password shown on the right-hand side.
If your organic label doesn’t have a QR code, simply visit http://food.cnca.cn/ to check its authenticity.
Q: What about imported organic food?
China has seen a growing demand for organic produce, both among Chinese consumers as well as expats. However, China does not recognize foreign organic certification – including USDA – and it is illegal to sell any product as organic if it hasn’t also been certified by Chinese authorities.
Q: Why do organic vegetables cost more than conventional ones?
It’s true, organic products have premium prices. These prices are based on the investment the farms have made to achieve organic status. Farms pay for the certification per year and per crop. They must invest in additional infrastructure, such as water filters. Additionally, farms must account for more loss due to insects, since they do not use pesticides.
Think of it this way – the price you pay directly supports the growth of the organic farming movement. You’re basically investing in the future of farming and helping more certified products come to market.
So how expensive are we talking? On average, the markup is about twice as much as you’d pay at a wet market, give or take a few RMB. But what you get in return is priceless – the assurance of safety for your health and the health of those that you love.
Q: Do I need to wash organic produce?
While organic produce will be free from chemical and pesticide residues, it’s still important to clean your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Chicken manure, cow dung and compost are great natural fertilizers, but you definitely don’t want to eat them!
During the hot and humid days of summer, insects like to hide amongst the leaves of your veggies. While this is a good indication that your food is truly organic, you want to make sure to get those out, too!
Use clean, filtered water to wash your produce. Soak your fruits or vegetables in water for 30-60 seconds. If you are worried about bugs, you can add some salt or vinegar to the water. Alternatively, you can use a fruit and vegetable wash, such as those from eco&more, Ecopower, Eco-Max and EchoClean.
Give the produce a little swish to loosen any dirt, then rinse in more clean water. For vegetables with lots of nooks and crannies, such as broccoli, or even for veggies that you intend to peel, use a brush to gently scrub them.
At FIELDS, all of their organic suppliers use clean, filtered water, in soil that has been certified free from pollution and contaminants by the Nanjing National Organic Certification Center, a subsidiary of OFDC.
No chemical pesticides or fertilizers are permitted and only natural pest control methods are employed. In addition, absolutely no GMO seeds are permitted to be used.
forganic is a new brand of organic vegetables from FIELDS. It’s a partnership between FIELDS and two of Shanghai’s leading organic suppliers – Foodpedia and Zhongsui Farm. This collaboration allows FIELDS to deliver Daily Fresh vegetables – organic veggies picked within 24 hours of your order – and allows them to maintain tighter quality control.
Foodpedia x FIELDS
Foodpedia is an organic farm headquartered in north Shanghai’s Anting Ecological Park, Jiading district. Their winter crops are sourced from fields in tropical Hainan, while other growing sites – located in Beijing, Shandong and Guangzhou – allow the farm to bring crops to market year around, following natural farming techniques and adhering to national standards.
Zhongsui Farm x FIELDS
Zhongsui Farm is located in west Shanghai’s Qingpu district and certified by one of the leading international bodies: the International Foundation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). High quality organic soil, a clean water supply and a flock of geese and chickens to take care of insects and pests all help to ensure the quality of the farm’s produce.
FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com) is a popular online grocery store for safe food in China. Begun in 2009 in response to food safety scares in China, FIELDS helped to kick-start the online grocery shopping revolution in Shanghai.
Today, popular among both expat and Chinese customers, FIELDS delivers groceries directly to your door, offering fresh vegetables and fruit – including many organic options – imported meat and seafood, cheese and bakery, plus the brands from home that you love and can’t do without.
Delivering 4 times daily in Shanghai, starting from as early as 06:30 in the morning, order before 16:00 and enjoy same day delivery, with free delivery for orders over RMB 200. A new customer? Great, you’ll receive a free gift with your first order!