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Weeding out fake organic food in China

Sunday, January 08, 2012 - 02:45

Jan. 9 - China's organic food industry has been muddied by the fakes, but now young entrepreneurs are trying to revive it, one farm at a time. Jane Lanhee Lee reports.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL. The seeds of China's local organic market have only just been sown. But it's already fighting to clean up its reputation. The latest big scandal to blow up -- Wal-Mart's fake organic pork sold in Chongqing late last year. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, JANE LANHEE LEE, SAYING: "From melamine in milk to red dye in tomato sauce, China's food scandals have sent consumers shopping for safer options. And a new crop of businesses have sprung up taking advantage of this new interest in clean and green." Not all these businesses play by the rules. The government is planning a new certification program in March that could help consumers trace their organic purchases online. But for now, young entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands. Zhang Lu is one of them. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) ECO DREAMLAND FARM OWNER, ZHANG LU, SAYING: "We started nearly two years ago and back then getting certified as organic was really cheap, but there were also a lot of fake certifications. For a couple hundred yuan you could get one. So it was meaningless." Zhang's farm on Chongming island, an hour from downtown Shanghai, delivers organic vegetables directly to his 100 or so customers. They pay in advance and the farm delivers a box of mixed vegetables according to what's in season. But part of the job is also educating a skeptical public. Once a month Zhang sets up at bazaars like this one to meet potential customers. Tao Xin is here because she doesn't trust the big retailers. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) SHOPPER, TAO XIN, SAYING: "There have been a lot of food scandals in China. But here you can see the food and where it comes from." Despite bad publicity for the domestic market, food safety expert Antoine Bloch says there are few issues with tainted exports. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VICE PRESIDENT ASIA-PACIFIC, SILLIKER, ANTOINE BLOCH, SAYING: "Not everybody can export products from China. All the government offices are giving different approval to sites or factories that export than the one who work for the domestic market. So I would say that there is quite a lot of selection at the source." China exports an estimated four hundred million dollars worth of organic food every year. Meanwhile, Euromonitor estimates China's domestic organic market was less than 40 million U.S. dollars in 2010 - a tiny fraction of an estimated 45 billion U.S. dollar fruit and vegetable market here. But it's growing at more than 20 percent every year, according to Euromonitor. And Zhang believes that without the scandals it could grow even faster. But as the government knuckles down to clean up its food industry, Zhang is in no hurry. He's got his eye on a slow, steady harvest. Jane Lanhee Lee, Reuters.

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Weeding out fake organic food in China

Sunday, January 08, 2012 - 02:45