Inside China's Secret Organic Food Industry

In China, you need clout to get organic food.
You think she got her produce from the secret organic food supply in Beijing? (Photo: Getty Images)
Sep 21, 2011
Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.

In the U.S. organic food is such a booming business that even Walmart has gotten into the organic game.

But in China, a nation that has struggled with several tainted food scandals, it appears you've gotta have clout to get your hands on organic fruits and veggies. 

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, we learned this weekend about the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club, a bucolic fenced-in island of vegetable gardening just outside of Beijing that featured cucumbers so pristine "they could be eaten directly off the vine." That is, if you were the right kind of person:

Elsewhere in the world, this might be something to boast about. Not in China. Organic gardening here is a hush-hush affair in which the cleanest, safest products are largely channeled to the rich and politically connected.

Many of the nation's best food companies don't promote or advertise. They don't want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes. The general public, meanwhile, dines on foods that are increasingly tainted or less than healthful — meats laced with steroids, fish from ponds spiked with hormones to increase growth, milk containing dangerous additives such as melamine, which allows watered-down milk to pass protein-content tests.

"The officials don't really care what the common people eat because they and their family are getting a special supply of food," said Gao Zhiyong, who worked for a state-run food company and wrote a book on the subject.

Times reporter Barbara Demick goes on to explain that this system of tegong, or "special supply," is a throwback to the beginnings of Communist rule. It seems, back in the days of Mao, the higher-ups were worried they might be poisoned. So they invited the Soviets to help them establish the secret supply chain. 

Today, it's used mainly as a perk for the rich and powerful. Probably to ensure they don't feed their babies tainted milk.

Check out the rest of Demick's eye-opening report at the Times' website

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