“We Have California Blend Fresh From Beijing on Aisle Nine”: Whole Foods Accused of Selling Questionable Organic Foods

A local ABC station is questioning the organic labeling of food from Whole Foods after learning that a considerable amount of produce comes from China. This includes “California blend”vegetables which come from China.

California blend vegetables are simply a marketing term, according to a Whole Foods representative (here).

The concern is that China has a notoriously corrupt economic system with lax regulatory enforcement. Moreover, it is a country that has extensive pollution problems. Nevertheless, Whole Foods insists that it is certified under the same standards that apply in the United States and subject to monitoring.

NRDC senior scientist Linda Greer states on the problem, “So you have to ask yourself the question, how would they ever know if the organic rules are being followed?. . . I wouldn’t buy something organic from China with the idea that it’s truly organic.”

For full disclosure, my family shops at Whole Foods (because we are part of the exchange program of college funds for collard greens). We do try to use organic vegetables whenever possible. I am not sure that this would deter us — though I do support the move toward locally grown produce.
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20 thoughts on ““We Have California Blend Fresh From Beijing on Aisle Nine”: Whole Foods Accused of Selling Questionable Organic Foods”

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  2. The Channel 7 video which is a link in Jonathan’s article says that they just don’t sell Chinese FROZEN foods as organic, they also sell fresh produce, nuts and a bunch of other stuff from China and Vietnam as organic. On Channel 7’s website is a list of the countries WF’s “food” comes from. Channel 7 got the list from a whistleblower. WF is currently not commenting on who they use in China to “certify” that the food is organically grown. The video on Ch. 7’s website is worth watching.

  3. I thought I would just add one anecdote to this article.

    My father grows sweet potatoes in the Central Valley of California. He knows the business and especially knows all the farms/farmers in the area; he’s been a farmer for over 35 years in the same place.

    We were visiting a small beach community in Capitola and a Whole Foods had just opened there. My mother wanted to visit so we all went along. My father looks at the sweet potatoes as he always does and notices a particular farmer from the Central Valley is being sold there. It was listed as something like “John Smith XYZ Farms Organic Sweet Potatoes”. The only problem is that my father knows the farm, he knows the farmer and he knows that this outfit has never grown or sold an organic sweet potato.
    It could of been a mislabeled bin or another honest mistake. However, there is very lax enforcement not only in getting certified organic but there also seems to be almost zero oversight on the actual transfer in organic produce. The China issue to me is a complete red herring as the entire infrastructure of organic produce enforcement to me seems to be questionable (maybe a strong statement on one anecdote).

    Personally I don’t really care. I don’t go out of my way to buy organic and I do shop mainly at Whole Foods. The only reason is because the extra 15 cents per lb. is worth it to me for what I consider slightly higher quality produce. Not because of anything to do with organics, it just seems like they have better quality control.

  4. gary,

    I said ‘the day it is legal where I live’ which could happen if it is legalized where I’m living or if I move to somewhere that it is legal… But I think that it would be nearly impossible to enforce a growing ban for a legal substance. I hope your pessimism is unfounded. On organic food, I think that a greater awareness is probably a good thing (even if the stuff we’re becoming aware of is bad). This awareness could provide an impetus to people turning (as much as possible) to locally grown (or personally grown) foodstuffs which is a generally good thing.

  5. Chi-ganicly grown foods USDA approved.

    Check the latest Mother Jones issue for a report on how empty USDA Organic is.

    Slartibartfast- when its legal it will still be illegal to grow your own. I’m just pessimistic about where the whole legalization thing is going.

  6. set up a grow room with powerful lights

    Dr. Slarti I truly understand where you are coming from but this is not how they envisioned the slogan to Green the Planet 🙂

  7. AY,

    I’m a big proponent of growing my own and I don’t mean vegetables – the day it is legal where I live I will plant my first crop. (And believe me, if I can order seed stock from Holland and set up a grow room with powerful lights legally it will definitely be some heavy duty shit.)

  8. puzzling,

    Thanks for the info – I think we’ll be finding out about this sort of thing for quite a while after 8 years of the Bush administration. I guess the only solution is to grow your own food…

  9. puzzling…


    who to trust? what to eat?

    thanks for the info!

  10. Anonymously Yours

    Happy Cows come from California. I would swore that they came from the Midwest, but the marketers know better. I can imagine an ad for the Ozarks, Happy Sheep to you or is that Kansas?


    Naughty … but funny! What, exactly, did you do in Nam?

  11. Many consumers prefer produce marked “USDA Organic”, believing it to be of higher quality, lower chemical content, locally produced, and more supportive of independent farmers.

    That would be wrong.

    “USDA Organic” is indeed a government certification, architected by the same corrupt government that created ethanol policies for ADM and dozens of other pro-agribusiness policies designed to crush small farmers.

    The USDA certification is a joke. From the Washington Post.

    Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

    The government’s turnaround, from prohibition to permission, came after a USDA program manager was lobbied by the formula makers and overruled her staff. That decision and others by a handful of USDA employees, along with an advisory board’s approval of a growing list of non-organic ingredients, have helped numerous companies win a coveted green-and-white “USDA Organic” seal on an array of products…

    “The big boys like Kraft realized they could really cash in by filling the shelves with products with the organics seal,” Harvey said. “But they were sort of inhibited by the original law that said no synthetic ingredients.”

    His victory was short-lived. The Organic Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole and Dean Foods, lobbied for and received language in a 2006 appropriations bill allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing and packaging of organic foods, creating conditions for a flood of processed organic foods.

  12. Happy Cows come from California. I would swore that they came from the Midwest, but the marketers know better. I can imagine an ad for the Ozarks, Happy Sheep to you or is that Kansas?

  13. Their frozen 365 house brand is discussed in the article. It does not include their fresh produce.

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