Frozen Organic Vegetables – FROM CHINA?!?

About a year ago, a friend of mine convinced me of the merits of eating organic. Now that winter has arrived and there is less fresh produce to choose from, I have been eating frozen organic vegetables. Some of the reasons organic vegetables are better than traditionally grown vegetables are:.

1. No pesticides used in production.

2. No artificial fertilizers used in production.

3. No genetically modified varieties.

The products I purchased were certified by the USDA and carried the Certified Organic label. I look at organic products as being more than just chemical-free. Like many people, I view organics as part of a green lifestyle. The green lifestyle includes the whole process of growing and getting products to market as well as eating natural.

Imagine my surprise then, when after several months of eating organic, I read the labels and saw that many of the vegetables I was eating were labeled “product of China.” I have nothing against China. But the idea that vegetables could be grown organically in China, processed, packaged and frozen and then shipped to the U.S. and sold at a price for less than a farmer here could produce them astonished me. After all, we are the bread basket of the world. What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, there are a few things that don’t quite pass the smell test.

1. According to Peter Navarro in The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won, 70% of the freshwater in China is too polluted due to continued use of pesticides and chemical dumping that it cannot safely be used for irrigation. Perhaps organic vegetables are grown without pesticides in China, but I suspect they are not chemical free.

2. In order to be certified organic, the soil used must lie fallow for a number of years. I have trouble believing that any land in China has lain fallow.

3. Even if the vegetables are grown organically, they have to be frozen in China and remain frozen for a boat ride across the Pacific Ocean in order to be safe.

I asked the frozen foods manager at the local Whole Foods Store why they buy frozen organic vegetables that are produced in China. His response was that it is the only way they can keep their prices down.

I believe him, but I don’t understand it. The only components that could possibly be cheaper in China than in the U.S. are labor and land cost. If land cost is less in a country with 1.3 billion people and much less arable land than in the U.S., something is seriously wrong. Since the government owns much of the farm land and the local bureacrats control it’s use, I suppose it could be due to their selling to the highest bidder. But it sounds like corruption to me. Labor is no doubt cheaper in China. However, farmers in the U.S. aren’t exactly making a fortune.

So, that leaves us with the question – Do we want to buy Frozen organic vegetables from China and support corrupt bureaucrats and virtual slave labor? Do we want to risk the chance that those vegetables thawed on the slow boat from China? Do we want to offset the benefits of organically grown with vegetables irrigated by polluted water? Do we want to offset the benefits to the earth of organics with the fossil fuels burned to transport them halfway around the world?

My next post will have a list of brands and stores carrying frozen organic vegetables and where they come from, along with comparative prices.

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