Tis the Season! When days get shorter and colder. When snow covers the ground – well not yet. When we start to prepare for the upcoming holiday season. We start to see our space and stores take on a holiday vibe and one of the aspects of the holiday are Mandarin Oranges.
Mandarin Oranges, or “Christmas oranges” as we called them when I was a kid because you only had them at Christmas time, are a traditional treat for most people at this time of year. Children, in particular, love them since they are the perfect size for their hands, sweet, and easy to peel.
Almost half of the global production of mandarin oranges are grown in China. Years ago I would only buy the satsuma oranges (I think of them as interchangeable) from the USA and they were the only ones that were certified organic (Johansen Ranch in California) that we had access to. It was the only fresh fruit we carried in the store before we transitioned into the grocery store we are today.
I am very proud of our customers because the price comparison of organic satsumas to non-organic oranges was – well, it was stupid. They chose to spend about 4 times the money on the organic ones than the non-organic ones.
Here is an experience I had:
Back around 2005, I went into the Safeway on 109th and Whyte one day. As soon as I went in, there was an ‘island’/pile of mandarin oranges boxes with a sign saying $3.99 per box. This was an incredible price for them even then but then I was shocked because the sale sign said – “Buy one and get a second for FREE”.
I have a habit of thinking along the supply chain and what would it take to put a product on a shelf. At 3.99$ per box it involved the follwoing to make some money/profit: the store (probably a lost leader for them but they may still have been making some profit even at 3.99$ a box), the importer and distributor, the shipping company, the dockyards, the exporter, the transport company moving the product from the fruit distributor and packaging plant, the packaging manufactorers, the farm and finally the farm labourer.
I could not see how there was any kind of exquitable respect for the people in the supply chain. Who was not paid a respectable amount for their part in this chain? Who was ripped off?
These non-organic mandarin oranges meant that there were also some environmental externalized costs. The soil, the plants, the water and the health of the people that would have been exposed to non-organic agricultural practices and paid a cost.
The main reason why I choose organic is that I do not wish for my food choices to be the cause of those externalized costs. I want my choices to be good for the world.
Last year we brought in the Chinese mandarin oranges. They were certified organic. We have decided to bring them in again this year because we need to support organic practices where we can.
We will also provide the US satsuma oranges as well for those people that would like to have that option.
In my community, there has always been a concern for the labour practices and environmental integrity of products coming out of China. Are people being treated well, is this product being made using prison labour, is this product somehow contaminated, is the organic certification really valid, etc?
I can’t answer these questions and that bothers me. Let me take you through how I see organic certification working in China:
Let me take you through how I see organic certification working in China:
A landowner wants to be certified organic. They apply, test their soil, go through the three-year transition period, tested again, and then get certified – just like here.
Will there be abuse? Will there be some landowners or certifiers not on the up-and-up? Unfortunately yes. There will always be people trying to take advantage of the system. But I fall back to that the international organizations that certify organic production, and the government bodies that oversee their national programs, are driven to maintain the integrity of the ‘brand’ and survival. They will quickly respond to claims of abuse since those certifying bodies would lose their right to certify in the future and that is the business they are in. It is self-preservation/self-interest.
When we asked our mandarin orange supplier if the product was tested for organic integrity when it arrived into Canada they said they did not have the resources to do so. I think this would be a good thing and will work with them to see that this is done at some point.
Ideally, our suppliers could travel to China to check out the farm that they get the mandarin oranges from (Earthborn) and do a thorough assessment of their organic and social integrity, but that is not going to happen. So we are going to trust that the Mandarin Oranges are being grown organically and the workers are being respected.
What is so beautiful, is that you, as a consumer, have choices.