The six guideline draft documents covered the sectors of fruits, vegetables, teas, medicinal plants, dairy products, and meat, and were released last month seeking public opinion by July 31.
“To standardise the organic sampling and testing procedures in China, regulate organic certification and provide clear direction for organic certification bodies to conduct testing based on risk assessment, the Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) has launched draft documents on the guidelines for organic sampling and testing,” said the CNCA in a formal statement.
“The preparation for these is currently underway, and the CNCA is seeking public feedback on these draft documents from all stakeholders.”
Both mandatory and optional tests were listed in these draft guidelines, covering a multitude of test types and various contaminants from pesticides like deltamethrin to illegal drugs such as Beta-adrenergic agonists.
All mandatory tests would need to be passed before the foods can be certified as organic in China.
Closer examination of the six draft guidelines revealed that grapes would be required to undergo the largest number of mandatory tests – 70 in all, whereas vegetables were required to undergo 60 mandatory tests.
One of the main reasons for putting grapes under such intense scrutiny is likely due to the many diseases that it is prone to in China.
According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), grape diseases such as Downy Mildew (caused by Plasmopara viticola), White Rot (Coniothyrium diplogiella) and Brown Spot (Pseudocercospora vitis) occurs in all of the country’s regions, and many others occur in specific regions depending on the weather conditions.
Grapes are generally sprayed with multiple rounds of pesticides and chemically fertilised at least three to four times through their life cycle in general farming, making it prone to high contamination rates - A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that grapes as a category contain ‘more types of pesticides than any other produce’ with 64 different chemicals detected.
Organic vegetables and the ‘organic’ accreditation business
With the interest in organic food at an all-time high in China and predicted to be worth over US$13bn by 2024, the rollout of these new organic guidelines is hoped to bring the country’s organic industry closer to international standards, and prevent counterfeits appearing on the market as well.
In this case, vegetables are also considered to be high-risk, as in many areas in China soil conditions are not considered suitable for the organic farming of vegetables due to soil and water standards, which has driven many farmers to ‘buy’ their certifications instead.
According to Xinhua, the selling of organic certifications has become quite a lucrative one with farmers purchasing these from private certification organisations for as low as CNY6,000 (US$848.82).
"The price of organic vegetables is several times that of ordinary vegetables. However, there are too many counterfeit products in the market selling at lower prices, so it is impossible to sell real organic vegetables at the higher prices or earn back the cost,” said vegetable firm Shandong Liaoyuan Technology’s Deputy General Manager Li Aihong.
Organic foods in general can be priced anywhere from 50% to 350% higher than regular foods, so selling a non-organic product as an organic one with a fake accreditation can be very lucrative as well.