An official thumbs-up for organic ag in China

Posted May 28, 2010 by Jim Harkness   

IATP President Jim Harkness is blogging from China.

China’s organic trade show opened in Shanghai yesterday. While visiting the exhibition hall, Agriculture Vice-Minister Chen Xiaohua gave his ministry’s stamp of approval to the organic industry. China uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides even more heavily than the United States, and last fall the government gave approval for field trials of genetically-modified food crops, so an expression of support for organics from such a high-ranking official is certainly significant. But...   

BioFach China, now in its fourth year, is organized by the German conference firm NürmbergMesse, which runs similar conferences in a number of other countries and regions. Last year there were about 240 exhibitors and over 10,000 visitors, and those numbers will probably be even larger this year. I blogged from BioFach China in 2008, but am missing it this time. The focus is very much on Big Organic and international trade (For American organic readers: this ain’t no MOSES!), Organic principles, local foods and the interests of small farmers are crowded out by talk of certification and phytosanitary codes for exporters. While the press release says “China’s middle class acquires a taste for organic,” this is seen as good thing primarily because it will provide a growing market for imports. At the same time, the release cites certification agencies as estimating that organics could make up 5 percent or more of China’s food exports by 2020.

Chemical agriculture is a huge problem in China (it was recently identified in a government report as a bigger pollution source than industry) so I cannot say that export-oriented organic agriculture is an unambiguously bad thing—even despite all the energy and climate issues associated with global food trade and the threat that such trade poses to local food producers in other countries. But neither can I overestimate the yawning gap between the "organic industry" that is being promoted at BioFach and the kind of food system we just talked about for two days with Chinese farmers and community groups: one that reconnects producer and consumer based on principles of trust, community and respect for nature.

The vice-minister, likewise, is in favor of organic agriculture, but not all organic agriculture. In wonderful ministry-speak, he says organic products should be promoted, but that it should be done, “positively and deliberately, guided by market demand, based on national characteristics and the principle of adapting to local circumstances, in a portion of regions that have environmental advantages, appropriate resources and special local products.”

Well, it’s a start.




       Sign up for our free newsletter!