Ethical food in China

One of the networks that is active in Shanghai on sustainability in China is the local GreenDrinks chapter. In fact, whereas Greendrinks usually are monthly events or so, in Shanghai this group has become more active, and has now re-branded itself to Green Initiatives, aimed not just at bringing together like-minded people and increasing awareness but also (and mostly) aimed at creating impact.

Last Thursday I was finally able to attend one of their events in person: a forum with different speakers on ‘Ethical food & drink‘ in China. Food is often a very personal part of sustainability – or at least, it is to me. It is one of the things I feel I can make my own choices on the food I buy (meat/no meat; organic or not; seasonal or not) relatively easily. It is also a personal issue because everyone needs food: it’s what you put into your body and what keeps you healthy. At least it should: and that’s where food has become a contentious issue in China where there are regular announcements of a new food scandal. Food safety/security is high on the agenda for anyone concerned about what they’re eating. But also in the Netherlands there are have been several cases involving food, labelling and transparency over the last few years.

The above topics were all part of tonight’s forum which talked about the pro’s and con’s of different types of labelling, the good and bad parts of fair trade products etc.

A lot of attention was given to fair trade production, but the more interesting part of the evening for me was learning about the market for organic products in China. This market is in fact growing quickly, but also offers some strong obstacles for foreign companies interested in entering the market: any food labelled as organic in China must go through China’s own organic certification scheme. Unsurprising, as China uses its own certification procedures for many other product groups as well, but considering the cost this still makes it difficult for – especially – smaller producers to enter the market.

This Australian article shares some experiences of going through this procedure from Australian producers. The China Organic Food Certification Center is responsible for this certification.

Clearly, this is of course also a prerequisite for any Chinese producers who are interested in expanding on this market. One of the panelists of the forum was Jane Tsao of BIOFarm, an organic farm in Pudong. They supply to both business (hotels & restaurants) but also to consumers directly via their weekly delivery of vegetables – good to know if I ever end up in Shanghai for a longer period of time.

Shopping for groceries tonight in a near-by (fancy) supermarket, I was again reminded of the forum and the fact that safe & healthy food is quickly becoming more important – at least in Shanghai: all vegetables there come from Organic Shanghai.

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