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Credibility of Chinese organic food crippled by mislabeling practise

(Xinhua)

15:26, November 05, 2011

BEIJING, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- For shoppers in China's supermarkets, the only ways to distinguish between organic products and their conventional counterparts are often the stark price differences and certification labels.

Organic food, whether fruit, vegetables or meat, has increasingly found its way on to supermarket shelves as buyers opt for "green food" in a country hit by many high-profile food scares in recent years.

Most Chinese customers have only a vague idea about what constitutes organic produce. Nevertheless, many deem it as nutritious and pollution-free, and fear risking their health if they choose non-organic food potentially contaminated by chemical fertilizers. They may be willing to pay up to three times more for organic, putting faith in companies' and farmers' certification labels indicating food produced with fewer agricultural chemicals.

Perhaps they wouldn't be quite so trusting if they realized a great variety of food labeled as "organic" on shelves is no such thing. In fact, as Xinhua research has revealed, it takes no more than a few thousand dollars for producers to obtain a "green" certification, often irrespective of the credentials of their wares. The unscrupulous certifiers taking their money are cashing in on the craze for organic food by exploiting a lax legislative system in this newly developed area.

"Some certifiers are handing out organic qualifications at will," said Liu Gang, an organic food broker who's been trading, processing and packaging organic food for years.

"A certificate is accessible as long as you are willing to pay from 20,000 yuan (about 3,150 U.S. dollars) to 30,000 yuan," explained Liu, who does business in Beijing, Shandong and Guangxi.

A quick search for "organic certification" on Baidu throws up dozens of consultancy groups claiming they can complete the industry-standard inspection of agricultural produce and grant "green" certification within three months, a promise that prestigious certifiers can not deliver.

And it's not just the Internet that certifiers are using to pick up clients. Zhang Yanxiang, owner of an organic farm in Shandong province says that, since some of his signature produce passed organic tests by a state-recognized organic certifier recently, he has been constantly harassed by phone calls from small certifiers.

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