how many fda and usda inspectors do we have in china?

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.

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25 Comments

  1. Tommy
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Can’t we grow f*@#ing pumpkin seeds in the U.S.? Why, for something as simple as some baked and salted snack food, can’t a company find a way to make it and sell it here instead of transporting it half way around the globe?

    Additionally, I’ve always found it funny that food products use the word “Farm” for branding purposes. The liklihood that these Pumpkin seeds were grown, harvested and made on a farm is nil. And if they were, I’m sure sanitary conditions were a top priority for the well-paid Chinese farmer.

    Boner drugs are great, by the way!

  2. egpnet
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    So there you sit in an airport men’s room with your package of raw pumpkin seeds on the tile floor … which you snap! … and you’re worried about the fact that the water used to grow those pumpkins might have been contaminated?

    I have lived in the “country” … Kansas, Minnesota … farm country. Organic then didn’t always mean “clean” or “pure.” It means “raw” … “as it is” … “you takes what you gets” … snap peas off the vine … just gnosh … stop gnashing.

  3. Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I guess that explains why pics of Chinese people always show them wearing surgical masks.

  4. dewd
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Your Quote, ” 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. ”
    points out the reason we import not only food, drugs and junk, but also allow illegals to cross the border, they are dirt cheap. Same bad ideas and principles ….both are risky.
    Stop the import of both and have a great day in America.

  5. Ian Curtis
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I prefer to eat Chinese Dehulled Pumkin seeds. I wanted to eat pumpkin seeds in 2003, and prefered dehulled and there was only one company that made the machine- Qiaopai Group. I chose the Qiaopai Group. I wrote about it quite a bit here on the site at the time. I knew I’d never make my money on the seeds, even with the de-hulled expense, but I wanted to show that there was a market for dehulling technologies. I can’t speak for US Pumkin seed farmers, but I think I did the right thing.

    Qiaopai Group is the exclusive manufacturer of pumpkin/watermelon seed dehulling machine (i.e. pumpkin/watermelon seed dehuller or the cleaning hulling and separating equipment for pumpkin/watermelon seed), sunflower seeds dehulling machine (i.e. sunflower seed dehuller or the hulling and separating equipment for sunflower seed), the cleaning equipment for all kinds of oilseeds, kernels and grains, peanuts dehuller and the peeling and separating machine for mung beans, etc. in China.

    Our pumpkin/watermelon seeds dehulling machine and sunflower seeds dehulling machine have been exported to over 30 countries, such as Germany, Canada, UK, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, Guatemala, Turkey, Mexico, Iran, Cuba and Greece, etc. and have been well recognized by customers around the world. Just not in the US.

    Are you suggesting that I should have bought dehulled American pumkin seeds that didn’t exist at the time?

  6. Drew Barrymore
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I had my doubts about moving to Ypsilanti until I read this comment by Ian Curtis’s ghost about pumpkin seed dehullers. Now I’m confident this is the right community for me.

  7. Ian Curtis
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Love will tear us apart.

  8. Anonymatt
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Is the first sentence of the Kristof quote mistyped or does it actually not make sense in the original?

  9. Brackache
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I fail to see the free market involved in the uselessness of the FDA. I see free market scrutiny relaxed due to overdependence on government. A free market solution would be a private consumer advocacy group, or a blogger calling attention to the problem to alert his fellow citizens.

  10. Suzie
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    “The liklihood that these Pumpkin seeds were grown, harvested and made on a farm is nil.”

    Uh… isn’t *anywhere* you grow, harvest, and make vegetables a farm, by definition?

  11. Thoreau
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx2hd6u2NQ0

    I hear American made Planters Pumkin Seeeds are the way to go..

  12. Ditch Digger
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Suzie: most pumpkin seeds are manufactured by Tyrell Corp. Real pumpkin seeds have not been available for decades.

  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t you notice the tiny “Made in China” stamp on every shell?

    You have to kinda admire China, though.

    They’re really just beating us at our own game.

  14. Rex
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Michael Pollan has been scaring me for years with his writing about mass produced organics:

    http://www.michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=78

  15. FoodandDrug
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I used to work for a company that manufactured pharmaceuticals and medical tests and devices. I helped prepare the documentation that was reviewed by the FDA. There are no FDA inspectors inside the manufacturing plants in the U.S. either. The FDA only reviews the paperwork submitted by the manufacturers themselves. Our system mandates that the private businesses do all the safety testing themselves. Our safety is dependent on the integrity of the individuals who often have greed as their primary motive.

  16. Brackache
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    But we need our “federal oversight” woobies to sleep at night and are willing to make everybody pay for their make-believe protection through taxation. I suggest we spend our money more wisely by abolishing the FDA and donating the taxes we save to (or starting) private consumer advocacy groups that actually test this shit. I may be repetitive and off-putting, but am I being unreasonable?

  17. Steve Swan
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Organic food and flimsy automotive parts aren’t the only things being exported by China. I highly recommend the adult films coming out of the Jiangxi province. There’s a director there who goes by the name of Sam who is unbelievably adventurous.

  18. Steve Swan
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    What do they do with the rest of these organic pumpkins? Do they export their flesh in cans or do they use it to feed organic hogs. Now I need to know. Is there a Chinese pumpkin farmer in the audience?

  19. Posted May 30, 2008 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    In the store last week I saw frozen “Wild Alaskan Salmon” that had a sustainable fishing label, but the label also said “Made in China”. On the back of the package, the fish was identified as Alaskan but it is filetted and packaged in China. It turns out that it is chum salmon which, according to Wikipedia, is not commercially viable. I guess it is cheap enough to ship around the world and still cost less in the end than coho or sockeye.

  20. Posted February 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I just realized today the raw organic pumpkin seeds I buy from Whole Foods…..are from China…for crying out loud…..I never imagined I had to worry about something as plentiful as pumpkins and the seeds……………disgusting….I’m so upset with WF.

    Thanks for this post…

  21. Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Nice post. I just picked-up some pumpkin seeds at Whole Foods yesterday and did not notice the “Made in China” sticker on the back until today. This is the first time I have ever seen any food from Whole Foods that is produced in China. I guess we can’t even trust them anymore. I threw out the seeds. My general rule is if you put it in your body it cannot come from China. Peace.

  22. anon
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    joseph, is there a kkk for folks like you who are sinophobes? i wonder what color the robes are.

  23. Jake
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    I noticed the same thing recently and picked up a bag of Eden Organic “double certified” organic Pumpkin Seeds — only to find out they are also grown in China. The Chinese government does not perform the level of monitoring we expect in the US, so the double-certified organic moniker seems deceptive. I suppose that’s why Eden rejected the USDA Certified Organic label in favor of their own organic trademark.

  24. Dan Weeden
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Myself and a female shopper at Whole Foods were informed at the beginning of the month that WF sends people to China to inspect the farms where the “raw, organic pumpkin seeds are grown”. I wonder if the WF folks wore respirators like our Olympic athletes did when China hosted the games? I hope thet the WF folks didn’t purchase any pet food as treats for their pets! We know how that played out! The bottom line is–the bottom line. If concerned about offering quality products, partner with US farmers!

  25. M
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Well, Whole Foods just sold to Amazon for over $13 billion.

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