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by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon


Following its vast political revolution of 1949, China closed itself off from most contact with Western countries, primarily maintaining ties with the Soviet Union, as a benefactor and political ally, plus limited interactions with a few other communist countries. China and all its allies during this time period faced enormous struggles in food production and supply of other basic needs for their citizens. China first opened itself to interchange and trade with the West in the 1970s, when its self-destructive cultural revolution was coming to an end. This opening was manifest in the development of a biannual international trade fair in Guangzhou (Canton) beginning in 1976. Western countries could then begin importing from China certain foods, tea, and medicinal herbs, as well as a variety of manufactured goods.

The issue of organically grown materials did not arise immediately. At that time, there was little attention given to organic foods even in the West. For example, in the U.S., there were only a few thousand acres of land with organic cultivation, very few outlets for organically grown food, and the foods were much more expensive than those produced by standard agricultural methods. In China, the concept of specifically seeking organically grown foods would not even make sense following the years of severe famine that from 1959 to 1976 probably killed about 30 million people. Simply getting enough food was an issue, and getting adequate variety of foods was still quite difficult, especially with the planned agricultural production determined by the central government that was often way off the mark of what was actually needed.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, the issue for Chinese farmers with regard to pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, and other agricultural aids, such as prepared fertilizers, was not how to avoid them: it was whether or not the farmers could afford them. If they could be obtained, they would be used. There was too little animal manure to go around, so human waste was used as fertilizer. Production had to be increased to meet the needs of a billion people who were living on lands that had been depleted by long-term agriculture. With larger plots of individual crops, especially those that are repeatedly planted on the same land, it is almost inevitable that plant pathogens will become a problem. People who established large plots would have to face the disastrous loss of entire crops if an insect infestation or root rot occurred. Sometimes the government would send millions of peasants to collect birds that were eating seeds or insects that were eating leaves. Under such circumstances, the population did not have a chance to think about dangers of pesticides.

The organic foods movement in the West did not make great progress until the 1990s. According to USDA estimates, the certified organic cropland doubled from 1992 to 1997 to reach 1.3 million acres (out of just over 430 million acres total cropland). Even today, organic farmland remains a small portion of American agriculture, currently well under 1% of the total farm acreage. The rapid growth of this agricultural industry led to some problems with labeling of products as organic, so new standards have been imposed, and people interested in organic products have increased their demands for purity and certification of purity as well. The situation has developed favorably to the point where organic foods are now sold in larger quantities in standard grocery outlets than in specialty "health food" or "whole food" stores. Major areas for organic foods are beverages and snack items more so than bulk fresh produce. Selling processed and packaged foods provides a more stable base for the producers, distributors, and retailers.

Consumers who are interested in seeking out organic foods tend to reject chemicals in a broader context than just those applied in agricultural practices. Thus, this group includes many people who seek herbal alternatives to drugs (as well as other therapies perceived as natural). Western herbs, by virtue of being grown in Europe and America where the organic foods movements began, and being most often sold as single herb remedies, are sometimes available as organically grown products. During the late 1990s, an increasing number of patients of practitioners prescribing Chinese herbs have inquired about organic production of the herbs. For them, the situation is complex, both because the herbs come from China and because the usual products are large mixtures of herbs from numerous sources within China, making it difficult to maintain any control over the growing conditions of each ingredient.

The situation in China with regard to herbs is somewhat different than that for foods, but there are many parallels. Within China, the demand for organic foods has only recently begun, with a lag of 10-15 years after the West developed a large scale interest. However, the issue is only gradually spreading to the herb market. The level of demand for special growing conditions for the herbs remains low, and comes mainly from the relatively small foreign markets (China only exports about 5% of its medicinal herb supply). The majority of herbs are still collected from the wild, so that cultivation conditions are not a matter of concern. For herbs that are cultivated, the materials are usually in short supply, so that efforts have been primarily focused on increasing production rather than on developing organic production methods.

However, the attention of the Chinese government and of producers is changing due to problems that have been encountered with non-organic production methods. Thus, for example, the market for Asian ginseng was greatly impaired when U.S. officials noted the presence of quintozene residue (a commonly used fungicide that prevents root rot) in some imported roots (mainly from Korea). The problem encountered initially was that this fungicide is not approved for use on ginseng by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (not because it is inherently problematic, as it is used for numerous crops in the U.S., but only because the approval hadn't been established). For herb users who are seeking chemical-free foods and herbs, this news also indicated that ginseng could not be trusted to be organically grown or, at the least, free from chemical residues. Indeed, it is almost impossible to grow ginseng on a commercial scale without using fungicides of some type; it is possible to minimize the presence of residues, frequently reaching the non-detectable level.

An even greater impact was felt in China after Western countries banned imports of its bee products. This came about when chloramphenicol (an antibiotic) was detected in several samples of pollen (it was also found in royal jelly). At that moment, China was the largest supplier of bee products in the world; a situation that changed immediately and put the bee industry in China into turmoil.

A positive development for China has been the recent publicity for the health benefits of green tea, for which China is the main source. Tea producers had to scramble to produce organically grown green tea for export, since those seeking its health benefits included many who were following the organic foods movement. Tea is usually produced with a small amount of fungicides to protect the plants from blister blight and root rot, so organic tea is a specialty item.

China has now gotten on board with Western countries that desire to develop organically grown crops, teas, and medicinal herbs. These were initially called "Green Foods," referring to the environmental political parties that were known as Green parties in Germany and other European countries.

The progress that China is making in this area should reassure manufacturers, practitioners, patients, and consumers who rely on Chinese medicinal herbs and teas. For example, a problem of lead contamination of herbs (not just from China) was discovered in the 1990s, and this has largely been resolved by the elimination of lead from gasoline supplies (lead in car exhaust was settling on soil and plants). China was late in eliminating this contaminant-the U.S. banned leaded gasoline in 1970, Europe followed suit in the 1980s and early 1990s; China did so in 2000).

An international symposium on organic farming was held in Korea in 2002 (1st Gangjin International Symposium on Organic Agriculture), and a report on organic foods production in China was presented by Lu Zhenhui, of the Organic Tea Research and Development Center (a department of the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Hangzhou). Following is a slightly edited version of his report, followed by a report of the current author regarding information personally collected on this subject.

Production and Market of Organic Foods in China

by Lu Zhenhui, of the Organic Tea Research and Development Center. Edited and updated by ITM


Organic farming aims at maintaining the long-term fertility of the soil through application of various sustainable cultivation techniques (e.g., crop rotation, manure rather than chemical fertilizer), building-up diversified production systems, and reducing the dependence on unnatural additives. With their sustainable production systems, organic farmers contribute to the protection of natural resources. Organic growing practices follow written standards which exclude the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Organic food is free of chemical residues, healthy, and of high quality. Therefore, consumers are willing to pay premium prices for organic products.

Today, organic agriculture is growing rapidly in China. Organic farming is promoted mainly for two reasons:

  1. To meet requirements of both international and domestic consumers, which are in line with international rules or guidelines. In the future, WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and notably the TBT Agreement (Technical Barriers to Trade) as well as the international standards for organic farming will play an even more important role than today. Organic food produced in China is mainly exported to Japan, the United States, Canada, and some European countries such as Holland, Germany, and France. It is estimated that the total value of organic food exported in 1999 was about $15 million (U.S.), and the annual growth rate at that time was 50% (based on trends since 1995). The majority of exported products were organic tea, soybeans, green beans, and other vegetables. Recently, organically produced foods such as tea, honey, vegetables, grains, and milk powder sold in the domestic market had a very fast rate of growth. In 2001, the sale value of foods sold on the domestic market with the Green Food designation (see below) reached around $3.5 billion (U.S.).
  2. To generate innovations which replace the use of agro-chemicals and allow for environmentally friendly agricultural practices. Increasing problems of contaminated food and deteriorating water quality have brought environmentally-friendly agricultural production to the top of the agenda for the central government. Organic farming is part of this strategy. The Ministry of Agriculture has planned a number of projects which monitor water and food quality in intensive farming systems. Shanghai Municipality has designed a package of supportive policies which promote environmentally-friendly agriculture, including organic farming. Food safety is a major issue which determines the behavior of urban consumers; it will also be an important quality of agro-products on the national market.

Main Organizations in Organic Food

There are now several major Chinese certifying agencies-China Green Food Development Center, Organic Food Development Center, Organic Tea Research and Development Center-plus other agencies investigating and promoting organic production techniques, such as the Intercontinental Center for Agro-ecological Industry Research, and the organic production site Jiangsu Ruikang Organic Food Trade. These organizations are briefly outlined below.

China Green Food Development Center (CGFDC), in Beijing, was the first organization in organic/green food development in China. It is a national level institution with the authority to certify agricultural products as being free of chemical contamination. Preparatory work began in earnest in 1990 and the center was officially established in November 1992 under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Green Food certified food products cover 7 major categories and 29 subcategories of China's agricultural products, including grains, oils, fruits, vegetables, animal products (meat and diary), aquatic products, liquors, and non-alcoholic beverages. By the end of 2000, green food certification was granted to 1,831 kinds of food products with the total output of 15 million tons and cultivated area of 3.33 million hectares (1.35 million acres). There are two levels of certification; both for freedom from detectable chemical residues:

CGFDC has three goals:

Major activities are inspection of food products, certification of accepted products, teaching about environmental protection and sustainable food production, and training of personnel at all levels of production and testing. CGFDC formulates programs, policies, and plans for developing Green Foods, administers the use of the Green Food label, and organizes the formulation and improvement of the various standards for Green Food. It also makes arrangements for carrying out key scientific and technological work, conducts promotional activities and advertising for the Green Food Project, organizes and participates in related domestic and foreign economic and technological exchanges and cooperative efforts, and directs the work of Green Food administration bodies in the provinces, autonomous regions, and cities. It sets up Green Food demonstration bases as well. CGFDC is a member of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM).

Organic Food Development Center (OFDC) is an organization within the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science (NIES) under the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) of China; it has been involved in organic inspection and certification since 1994. OFDC is a specialized institution following international certification standards and requirements. It has received official accreditation by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). OFDC certified products are mainly exported to Japan, the United States, Canada, and European countries.

The main tasks of OFDC are to control agro-environmental pollution caused by heavy application of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, to promote the development of organic agriculture, and to provide certified quality organic food for consumers. OFDC now has set up branches in 11 provinces and regions. Some organic food development offices were set up at the county levels; there are 35 qualified inspectors approved by OFDC. OFDC has developed rigorous standards for organic food production and processing, and for regulating the use of the OFDC organic logo (registered and protected by law in China). The standards have been approved by SEPA, a governmental institution.

The Organic Tea Research and Development Center (OTRDC), under the Tea Research Institute of the CAAS (China Academy of Agricultural Sciences), is a domestic certification body specializing in organic teas, beverages, and herb products. Since its establishment in March 1999, it has issued certificates to a total of 110 organic tea gardens and three organic fertilizer plants. OTRDC certified products are widely accepted by Chinese consumers and spread quickly in domestic market. It has begun promoting its certification to the world market.

Intercontinental Center for Agroecological Industry Research (ICAIR) was established in Nanjing in 1998 by professors, experts, and technicians in the fields of plant ecology, agro-ecology, and organic food development. It is a non-profit research organization with the aim of increasing the productivity and improving the stability and sustainability of agricultural production systems by promoting the development of the agro-ecological industry, organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture in China. The goal of ICAIR is to protect rural environments from pollution while promoting sustainable development of rural economies through agro-ecological industries, including organic industry and rational utilization of natural resources. This is accomplished, in part, through international and national collaborative study and information exchange of agro-ecological knowledge, technology, and science. Thus, the researchers and developers at ICAIR have extensive contacts and relationships with research institutions, universities, governmental organizations and NGOs. Professor Li Zhengfang, the President of ICAIR, is a well-known ecologist, developer of organic food in China, and one of the founders of the Chinese organic agriculture movement. He was also the founding director of the Organic Food Development Center (OFDC).

Jiangsu Ruikang Organic Food Trade (JROFT) was established in 1995 and is one of the pioneers of the organic agricultural movement in China. JROFT has cultivated organic tea, organic licorice, and organic star anise. All products are organically grown in the natural and wild environment and conform to the EEC (European Economic Community) regulations and the standards of OFDC (Organic Food Development Center) for organic agriculture. JROFT aims to arouse interest in organic farming by Chinese farmers, help improve the farming environment, exchange experiences in organic farming and organic food trade with devotees of the organic movement throughout the whole world, and open up a bigger market for organic agriculture by its own efforts and those of friends and colleagues.

International Certifiers

Presently, many export-oriented products are certified directly by some external certifiers, such as ECOCERT International and Bio Control Systems (BCS) in Germany; Institute for Marketecology in Switzerland and Germany; the Soil Association in England; and the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) in the U.S. ECOCERT and BCS have established local branches as joint ventures with Chinese partners. In this case, local inspectors and certifiers do inspection jointly. All together, the many certifiers are competing for a rather limited area of production at this time. In most cases the foreign importers of Chinese goods decide on which certification label should be used on its products.

Development of Green Food and Organic Foods: A Brief Historical Overview

In 1990, China officially announced its plans to commence the development of Green Food, in what was called the Green Food Project. The project was depicted as being large in scale-involving many government departments and enterprises as well as branches of scientific organizations. Green Food included organically grown foods and foods that were free of chemical contamination. The development of Green Food can be described in 3 stages:

Initiation stage (1990-1993): During first three years, many fundamental policies and institutional bodies were established and organized. The China Green Food Development Center (CGFDC) was established to organize and carry out the Green Food Project throughout the country. Besides that, the quality testing and control agencies were established, as were the quality criteria and standards. The CGFDC have made and promulgated a document describing the management of the symbol for Green Food. During this period, Green Food production grew up quickly in some areas, but lagged in others.

Rapid development stage (1994-1996): The developments of Green Food in the second stage were characterized as follows:

Wide popularizing, marketing and internationalizing stage (1997-current): The socialization of Green Food has evolved as follows:

Marketing of Green Food has developed very quickly. At present, market systems for Green Food have been established in many large and medium size cities. Consumers are getting more and more familiar with the Green Food. The total production output at the end of 2000 was $5 billion (U.S.).

Organic Foods Versus Green Foods

While the original Green Foods movement was aimed at having food free of detectable contaminants, the organic foods movement focuses on the method by which the food ends up free of contaminants, namely, by being farmed in a unique chemical-free way, and linking this to sustainable agricultural practices.

As an example of the establishment of organic farming, the oldest site is the Liu Min Ying Ecological Farm, outside of Beijing. It was founded in 1982, and became the first "ecological village" in China. By 1987, it was selected as one of the United Nations' 500 environmental models for the world. Now, it is a diversified farming enterprise with grain production, greenhouses for vegetables, an orchard, nursery, and facilities for animal husbandry. The farm makes use of organic wastes, solar energy, and other ecological approaches.

Development of organic foods in China can be described in 3 stages:

Research phase (1982-1994): Since 1982, when China began to develop ecological agriculture, some research institutes started to do research on organic foods, determining the methods by which chemical agriculture could be avoided. In 1990, organic green tea produced in Zhejiang Province was certificated by the SKAL (the Dutch certifying agency) and exported to Holland, which represented the initiation of organic food production in China with internationally recognized certification.

Development of organic production fields (1994-2000): By the year 2000, more than 100 kinds of products were grown organically and certificated. The value of trade in this organic produce reached more than $20 million (US). The products include tea, honey, soybean, buckwheat, wheat, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, condiments, milk powder, and some traditional Chinese medicines. These products were mainly exported to Great Britain, Japan, America, Holland, Canada, Germany, France, and Australia. By 2000, there were 9 research groups that carried out research on organic food; nearly 30 companies undertook trade in organic foods; more than 50 bases of organic food production; 5 organic fertilizer factories; and more than 30 processing factories that handled organic foods and herbs.

Chinese regulation systems and expansion of domestic sales (developments after 2000): The number of units involved in the organic industry is rapidly increasing. Authorities such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment Protection Agency are formulating new regulations for the management of organic food. The disordered state of competition in this industry is changing and the primary focus is towards standardization of procedures and goals. Improvements in the quality-control systems will prevent imitations and fake products from spoiling the programs. The development of a domestic organic food industry will draw people's attention and promotion of organic foods will be strengthened. There will be more special shops that sell organic food, as well as organic foods sold in retail chains and in supermarkets.

Recent Problems

The following are the key problems persisting in organic farming in China:

Policy Needs for Action

The expansion of the organic movement in China will require the following:

  1. Establish a Legal Framework for Organic Standards: An even and high quality of organic products can only be achieved if China has its own legal standards which are in line with international requirements. These standards would provide a binding base for the certification systems working at the farming level. The legal framework can only be established after the political responsibilities in organic farming have been clarified.
  2. Coordinate and Standardize Organic Certification: An Organic Food Authority would have to be authorized by the State which would be responsible for implementing the legal guidelines, accreditation of certification bodies and supervision of certification systems. The establishing of such an authority would be a precondition for organic products from China to be recognized by the importing countries of the EU (European Union).
  3. Develop Policy Incentives: Cheap chemical fertilizer and pesticides are the most important incentives in intensive farming which lead to the poisoning of food and water. Incentives for environmental-friendly agriculture must be decided on the policy level, like for purchase of essential substances (such as natural fertilizer) and provision of extension services (such as professional advisors) for assisting the farmers.
  4. Network Information Flow Among Producers and Traders: Fair-trade is based on a transparent system for production and marketing in which intermediary traders play a minor role. Producer's direct access to traders is encouraged and market information such as commodity prices, profit margins of traders, etc., is available. The local governments should support farmers in gaining their own marketing channel or cooperating with trading companies on fair marketing of organic products.
  5. Develop Professional Support Services: For achieving a high standard of organic production, farmers and processors would need qualified advisors whose work is guided by professional norms and standards. Most likely, theses advisors would be organized in professional associations.
  6. Develop Vocational Training: Specialized technical knowledge would have to be developed and disseminated both in agricultural universities and among the practitioners within the extension system. Building up the know-how in organic farming would require a strong link between theory and practice.


During a visit to a ginseng farm in northeast China in 1979, we asked the farm manager about use of chemicals in growing ginseng. He acknowledged that some "soil amendments" were used (these prevent root rot), but he was concerned about minimizing their use and avoiding residues. As one of the measures taken, during the weeks prior to harvest of the plants, use of such chemicals would cease, and the rains during that time of year were expected to wash away the chemicals, thereby leaving the roots free of residues. This approach may have worked well, but some farms in Korea apparently did not follow this approach and, about 20 years later, the detection of fungicides (quintozene) on ginseng was publicized in the West, adversely affecting the ginseng trade. In fact, Dr. Fu Kezhi at the ITM China office in Harbin pointed out that this negative publicity caused several ginseng farms in Heilongjiang Province to close down due to loss of markets.

In a visit to some Chinese herb cultivation fields and botanical research centers in China in 1983, I was told that several of the Chinese herbs did not require use of pesticides or other chemicals, but a few of them did. Cultivators generally agreed that they wanted to minimize use of such chemicals, both because of their high cost and because of their artificial nature compared to the intended quality of the crop (as a natural product), so they were usually minimized. This comment appears to be confirmed by testing that was done by companies importing Chinese herbs, with most herbs testing free of any detectable amounts of pesticides.

Although organic farming efforts were begun in China during the 1980s, the awareness level remained low until quite recently. For example, Dr. Li Zhengfang, one of the early promoters of this approach (founder of OFDC and president of ICAIR, described above), sent out a letter in 1995 to American specialists trying to get some handle on the definitions of organic versus sustainable farming and about the developments of organic farming here, saying:

Please allow me to raise some questions of you, and ask for your help. The following are my questions:

  1. What is the relationship between organic and sustainable agriculture? Are they the same thing or something different?
  2. What's the definition of sustainable agriculture? Is the definition accepted by most of academic people?
  3. What is the trend of organic agriculture development in your country? And around the world?
  4. Are the demands for organic foods in US growing or not?

I'm very interested in sustainable and organic agriculture and now am engaging in organic food development in China. Because of some vagueness and confusion in the concepts, I put to you the above questions.

This inquiry shows that even by 1995, Chinese specialists were not clear on what the agricultural movements in the West were about. Still, tremendous progress has been made since then, particularly in the field of organic tea production.

In 2000, ITM began supporting a licorice cultivation project in Heilongjiang (partly managed by Fu Kezhi of the ITM China office). This project will help the transition from threatened wild supplies to a cultivated supply and will help local peasants earn a living. It has been necessary to relay important concepts about pest control and avoidance of pesticide use from here to assure a good outcome. Dr Fu reported:

Based upon your advice to us making a warning about the problems of plant diseases and insect pests for licorice plantations, we plan to give a lecture about the importance of a rational crop-rotation cultivation method for the licorice crop (leguminous plant) with crops of grass family plant (Gramineae), as well as undertaking better measures to treat plant diseases and prevent insect pests without residual contaminations. The major insect pests of licorice cultivation at Heilongjiang area are the flea beetle and the leaf beetle (Phyllotreta spp.) and aphids (Aphis eracivora usuana). I will be bringing attention to this issue to our scientific exemplary group at the Anmin Base [site of licorice cultivation] by inviting an expert about these problems from the agriculture or forest college next year, before the beginning of spring plowing.

We have especially checked on the qualities of growth for the one-year-seedling rootlets and the transplanting status of the rootlets in the fields. On the whole, the one-year-young plants in the licorice field (each peasant household grew 5 Chinese mu; about 3 acres) are growing very well, without plant diseases and insect pests, but in the transplanting fields the two-year-plants are growing very badly at the present time, almost all the leaves fall off from the standing plant stems. This is exactly what can happened with a "repeat crop" [that is, growing the same item in a field two years simultaneously, rather than rotating crops, often resulting in problems of fungal infection of the roots]. And a few of two-year and three-year plant growing fields have been partially invaded by insect pests, but not seriously.

In attempting to more quickly expand the cultivation of licorice at the Anmin base to meet the demands of our main customer, you had advised us that when only a single plant is cultivated over a vast land area that would cause an occurrence of plant diseases and insect pests. The plant diseases and pest control will become a serious problem at the Anmin base. We have requested the first and the second exemplary groups to employ small farm units in a three-year-cycle of production for a reasonable rotation of cultivation. We hope the exemplary group's households will practice the cultivation technique as requested.

One can see that the attempt to cultivate herbs without using pesticides is a significant challenge. These farmers are basing a large part of their livelihood on success of these crops. They have relatively little guidance, with support for proper organic and sustainable cultivation coming primarily from U.S. interests and from a few specialists who have to be brought to the area from distant colleges and Universities.

A project aimed at training farmers of tea and gastrodia (tianma) to develop sustainable crops and use less pesticides was reported by Wang Huiyang recently (at a 2002 conference in Indonesia). This project was undertaken in Huoshan County of Anhui Province, an area famous for its tea fields and medicinal herbs, including dendrobium, fritillaria, and mulberry, as well as gastrodia. It is also a major rice producing area. Wang described "farmer field schools" established to educate farmers about pests and their control with minimal use of chemicals, while looking out for their primary need of successfully making a living from producing crops. During a five year program (starting in 1998), 549 farmers obtained training in techniques associated with cultivation of gastrodia. It was recognized that gastrodia cultivation had the potential to yield a good income because of the high demand, but that few farmers knew how to cultivate it effectively. The project resulted in farmers using less toxic chemicals and fewer chemicals while increasing their yields.

Recently, I have helped bring into the U.S. some organically grown tea from Tibet. The tea plantation was set up with the aid of a Chinese company in Sichuan Province directed by He Xingyou, who has a personal interest in Tibet (for example, he has produced a magnificent book of artistic photos of Tibetan landscape and culture called Voice from the Heavens). The plantation is located in what has been called "the last pollution free land on earth," and features organic gardening (which is made possible, in part, by the relative isolation and high altitude, producing fewer problems with pathogens that is found in much of China). Because this plantation was established many years ago, the only certification available at the time was the Green Foods certification. That certification assures that the finished product is free from pesticides and certain other contaminants and is internationally recognized, but some of the newer certifications (such as by OFDC) are more desirable because of their affiliation with major international organic certifiers. In the attempt to ship the tea to the U.S., the company found that Chinese authorities were very strict and would not allow the tea to be exported until it had been thoroughly tested by government laboratories, not only to assure that it was free of contaminants, but also to assure that all the ingredients (including some herb flavors, like saffron, rhodiola, or snow lotus) were truly from Tibet. Although disruptive, this rigorous checking demonstrates that the Chinese government is committed to having its exports meet very high standards.

Even to get the Green Food certification at its lowest level is expensive and time consuming. A black tea product from Tibet produced by the same method as the green tea has not yet been certified. . Even though it is organically grown, it was decided to forego certification because the market for the black tea is substantially less than for the green tea, and the certification value doesn't yet justify the expense. Certification for the organic cultivation is not an easy task due to the remote location of the fields. To make the inspections and certification affordable overall, there has to be a larger scale of operations, which will come about once demand for organically grown products increases substantially.

As more Western firms enter into joint ventures with Chinese groups to support sustainable agriculture and to make products for export, the use of organic farming methods is sure to increase. Similarly, as the Chinese economy improves, the domestic demand for specialty foods, such as those grown organically, will also increase. One can reasonably expect a dramatic improvement in the situation within the next 10 years.

Inspectors from the United Nations at an organic tea plantation in China
Inspectors from the United Nations at an organic tea plantation in China


  1. Lu Zhenhui, Production and market of organic foods in China, 1st Gangjin International Symposium on Organic Agriculture, 2002 (November 15), Gangjin, Korea.
  2. Wang Haiyang, Farmer field schools (FFS) in China: experience in Huoshan County, International FFS Workshop, 2002 (October 21-25), Yogiyakarta, Indonesia.

January 2004