Special Report: Organic vegetables
"I do think that it's probably a better product, and I'd consider trying it."
You might even think that organic veggies are grown locally.
Jonathan Hall, 7News
"Do you think for the most part they're domestic?"
"For around here, this area, yes."
But 7News found that's not always the case. In four local grocery chains we found bags and boxes marked organic, produced not in Massachusetts, or even America, instead they come all the way from China.
"I wasn't really aware they came from China."
In supermarket after supermarket we found everything from spinach, to asparagus to pasta labeled organic on the front and product of China in small type on the back.
"I'd wish that they'd be grown locally."
When a product is labeled "certified organic," it's supposed to indicate the food was grown without chemicals and pesticides.
It's the USDA's job to monitor farms growing organic products both in the U.S. and around the world.
Farmers here in this country say the rules are strict.
Lynda Simkins, The Natick Community Organic Farm
"It takes three years to become certified organic from a non-certified piece of land. We have to keep incredible records throughout the whole year, what goes on the soil, what goes in our compost, when you flip your compost, where you buy your seeds, what you put on your crop."
But who's checking organic farms in China? Not the USDA, at least not directly.
According to federal officials, the agency uses third party private inspectors to make sure Chinese farms meet the national organic standards. But they only require that onsite inspections happen at least once a year. Most of the certification process is done with paperwork.
As for the FDA, they're only able to check a small percentage of imported foods. And they don't distinguish between organic and non-organic.
Dr. David Acheson, FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods
"It doesn't matter to us, it has to be safe. Overall we're inspecting around about 1% of the food supply that is coming into the United States and in many incidences that is not enough, but is 2 percent enough, is 10 percent enough?"
Nutritionists say sticking to products produced close to home may be your best bet.
Melanie Pearsall, nutritionist, Mass General Hospital
"I think there should be a relative level of concern the farther the food is away from you and then away from your country. I think there is probably more reason to think that there could be things that aren't up to our standards."
Despite concerns about Chinese products, we do want to make one thing clear, the FDA says there's never been a documented case of e. coli or salmonella traced back to Chinese produce imported into this country. But there have been problems with tainted domestic produce.
(Copyright (c) 2008 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)