These are organic pumpkin seeds. I bought them for a recent cross-country flight. I ate the whole thing before reading the small print, which said that they’d been grown in China. As everything’s made in China these days, I know it shouldn’t have really surprised me, but it did. I know that organic standards have been steadily eroding, as every multinational corporation and its army of lobbyists jump on the green bandwagon, but I just couldn’t imagine that there was someone ballsy enough — even in the soulless world of international pumpkin seed marketing — to put the words “China” and “organic” together on the same label.
[According to one article I found, China exported $200 million in "organic" food in 2004 I expect it's a hell of a lot more now.]
Maybe there are good, clean places in China. It’s a big country. I’ve seen maps. But my guess is that no one tested the ground that these pumpkins were grown in, or the water that was used to grow them. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the U.S. only had two FDA investigators in China, and that they were primarily tasked with looking into the production of pharmaceuticals. The free market, I guess, was supposed to take care of the rest, maybe with the occasional little nudge from the Chinese FDA. Of course, you’ll remember that the head of the Chinese FDA was recently sentenced to death for taking money to look the other way as faulty drugs were manufactured and sold.
As for the effectiveness of free market oversight, I just found this at “Businessweek“:
…Ultimately, it’s up to companies and government officials to ensure that USDA standards are met. The likes of Costco Wholesale, Eden Foods, and Stonyfield send people to China to inspect fields and crops.
Independent certifiers from agencies accredited by the National Organic Program check that rules are followed, though critics say inspections aren’t sufficiently frequent or independent. And food from all foreign markets is spot-tested before it crosses the U.S. border.
Even with these safeguards in place, however, making sure that every carrot, cabbage, and strawberry imported from China meets USDA standards is impossible.
I’m sure a lot of you suspected this already, but the term “organic” has just become another empty marketing slogan, like “tastes great.” It has no meaning whatsoever. At least that’s the insight I’ve come away from this pumpkin seed experience with.
Pollution and contamination, as we all know, are rampant in China. In Sunday’s “New York Times,” Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed included the following mind-blowing statistic:
…somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 Chinese idea prematurely every year from the effects of outdoor air pollution, according to studies by Chinese and international agencies alike… Beijing’s air sometimes has a particulate concentration that is four times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization…
I have questions as to how that number was determined, but I’ve got to imagine it’s true. And, given the fact that the number appears to come from Chinese agencies, I’ve got to think that 400,000 is just a fraction of the real number.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this post… I guess I could end by pointing out that the Chinese, if they wanted to, could kill us all with tainted obesity, anxiety and boner drugs. (I think that should cover close to 90% of Americans.) Or, better yet, I could point out that it’s a risk we’re willing to take, just as long as they keep feeding the American appetite for poorly made, dirt cheep crap. Or maybe I could go on to quote Kristof about the toxic Chinese clouds approaching our west coast. Whatever happens, whatever eventually comes along to wipe us out, we deserve it. We should all, I guess, take some comfort in that… In the meantime, enjoy the pumpkin seeds.