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Organic labeling continues to mislead

Updated: 2012-08-15 13:27
By Zhi Yun ( China Daily)

Many markets use unauthorized certificates on their vegetables.

Some supermarkets and suppliers in Beijing are ignoring a new national standard that aims to rein in the chaotic organic food industry.

According to the new standard, organic products produced after July 1 must bear the mark of authorized certification organizations and a unique 17-digit identification number, by which users can trace the product's origin on the Internet.

However, one month after the new standard took effect, a China Daily reporter found several markets in Beijing selling products without the standard labels.

In the organic vegetable section of a large supermarket in Dongcheng district, the majority of products either did not carry the standard organic food label with the 17-digit identification number, or carried labels from unauthorized certification organizations.

According to the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China, there are only 15 authorized organic product certification organizations nationwide. Any certificate issued by other organizations is invalid.

In another large supermarket north of Fourth Ring Road, the organic vegetables with standard labels were placed among vegetables with improper labels.

As all of the labels are round, green and about 2 cm in diameter, they look similar.

"There are so many kinds of organic labels. It's very hard to identify the authorized ones. And it's very easy to take the wrong product as the labels all look the same to me," a woman shopping in the supermarket said.

The prices of the vegetables labeled as organic are usually higher than non-organic vegetables.

Organic tomatoes in this market were selling at 13 yuan ($2) per kilogram, while the regular tomatoes, only a few steps away from the organic food counter, were priced at only 3 yuan per kilogram.

In a fruit store in Dongcheng district, a China Daily reporter bought fruit and asked the shop owner if he could stick organic labels on them.

The owner produced dozens of labels and told the reporter they belong to his company.

An online store on, specializing in producing food labels, also said they could make all types of organic food labels if they were provided with a sample.

According to the regulations on the certification of organic products carried out on April 1, 2005, companies who fake organic labels or use the labels without certification from authorities will be fined 10,000 to 30,000 yuan.

Guo Chunmin from the China Organic Food Certification Center, one of the 15 authorized certification organizations, said it's common for producers or suppliers to carry unauthorized labels, given the new standard is much tougher than before.

He said many companies that had the license in the past are now unqualified.

The center has stripped 300 to 400 food producers of their organic certification since the new standards were implemented.

According to the new standard, the planting environment of producers must be examined every year and a wide range of the vegetables they grow must be examined.

Under the previous standard, inspection took place once only every three to five years, and only one vegetable was examined.

As the standard became more complicated and stricter, the cost of certification has greatly increased, Guo said. "The examination of one breed of vegetable costs at least 2,000 yuan. If a company has 100 kinds of vegetables, which is pretty normal, it will spend more than 200,000 yuan on certification."

The high cost discourages companies from producing certified organic products.

The core idea behind organic farming is no chemical fertilizers are used during the production, he said. Therefore, organic farming often has a smaller output than non-organic farming.

The benefit is that authorities can ensure that the organic products with the standard labels are all trustworthy, Guo said.