Monday, July 25, 2011

Supporting Your Local Chinese Farmer

Do you support your local Chinese farmer ? You might unknowingly so. It sounds absurd, but many U.S. companies and consumers are buying their produce from China because it's cheaper than the produce that's grown here in the U.S., this goes for Organic produce as well.

I was first made aware of the availability of Chinese produce about seven or eight years ago when I was buying Garlic at the Central Market located in downtown Los Angeles. My normal price range as I recall was about $18-$21 for a three pound container of peeled garlic. But on this glorious day the container could be had for $5. I couldn't believe it ! I naturally asked, how this could be so ? Was there a huge surplus ? Did someones check bounce on a big order and now your sittin' on a truckload of Garlic ? What gives ? The agent explained to me that they were starting to get some produce in from China and I would soon be seeing lower prices on a few things like Apples, Broccoli, and Cilantro. I took the $5 Garlic and I was now supporting my local Chinese farmer.

Things seem to be running pretty smooth for Chinese farmers. In 2008 they became the third largest importer of agricultural and seafood products. Because of that fact alone, I think it's pretty safe to say that even the most devout "locavore" has sampled the fruits of the Chinese farmers hard work.

We are constantly being bombarded by information about all sorts of concerning subjects making it easy to drown out many of the red flags when it comes to imports coming from China. Let's just take a moment and look back at a few, such as the milk derived product baby formula, which tested positive for melamine, (an industrial chemical to make plastic) and sickened tens of thousands of children in 2008. They also found some melamine in coffee products and recalled those as well. Then there was the epidemic of peoples beloved dogs and cats dropping dead because the pet food from China was bad, that was in 2007. That very same year the F.D.A. held all farm raised seafood shipments until the shippers could prove that they had no traces of unapproved drug residue.
But before we throw all Chinese farmers under the bus, let's be clear that there's still more good than bad in this world and not all Chinese farmers use dangerous drugs and other chemicals on their crops...just the ones who grow food for the U.S.

As a cured meat junkie I had wondered why we couldn't get certain items that I had eaten in Europe such as Pata Negra which is coincidentally now allowed in the U.S. as of 2007. It was explained to me by an old employer of mine in Boston that "you have to have F.D.A. inspectors come to your location and that's too expensive for small producers". Although a little on the simple side, very true.
Currently there are two main agencies that are responsible for all of this and their work is supported by a select few federal, state and local agencies. They are the F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). I'm not really sure what their intentions are because although all imported food products must meet the same safety standards as domestically produced foods, international trade rules permit a foreign country to apply its own, differing, regulatory authorities and institutional systems in meeting such standards, under an internationally recognized concept known as "equivalence".

I chose the Chinese farmer subject because of a conversation that I had with someone the other day about Soy Milk. He told me that some Soy Milk is made with Soy Beans from China because beans from the U.S. are too expensive. I honestly didn't know what to say. On one hand I thought that there was no way that this was plausible but then I had an instant reality check and said to myself- "why not?" Cash is king and the cheaper price wins the contract. This is such the case for Silk brand Soy Milk. Silk was founded in Boulder in 1996 and sold its operations to Dean Foods in 2002, which is coincidentally the same year they started to support Farm Aid, a not for profit who later allowed them to present a Farm Aid concert in 2009. So I guess when Farm Aid states that they support food from family farmers, they mean Chinese family farmers!  In 2009 Dean Foods got busted for using Soy from China and not notifying consumers that it wasn't organic at which point they changed the label from "organic" to "natural". These guys account for roughly 75% of all refrigerated Soy Milk sales here in the U.S. which when you think about it is nearly everything.

So next time you have a moment, do a little research about some of your favorite food products. I think that you may be surprised as to who owns them and where some of them source their ingredients from. Let's give our American farmers a hand and make a conscious effort to buy American agricultural products.

1 comment:

  1. Jason, I love your views and opinions... Thank you for educating us all!!!