Visit any health food store and scan the labels on different meal replacement drinks. The majority of those ingredients? They hail from China, Egypt, and India, countries that historically lack transparency with truth in ingredients.
For instance, think back to the pet food scandal of 2007, in which the kidney failure of many animals led U.S. authorities to recall hundreds of pet products made in China for containing compounds that falsify the volume and/or concentration of protein content (eg melamine, cyanuric acid, ammeline and ammelide). Likewise, the USDA detained vegetable proteins from China to prevent their consumption by humans.
The allure of inexpensive imported ingredients―their purity notwithstanding―is irresistible to some meal replacement manufacturers looking, like all of us, to make a profit. But in 2011, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe “by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.” FSMA has increased the level of safety requirements in our food system, whether that’s fresh market, processing, ingredients in nutritional supplements and mixes, etc. Unsurprisingly, one of FSMA’s main focuses is importer accountability.
At Spinaca Farms, we see a market for domestically produced and manufactured vegetable powders made from excess crop on existing fields in a supply chain that’s been regulated by USDA and FDA for many years. Furthermore, Spinaca Farms already surpasses FSMA compliance because we have been serving fresh market customers for two generations. It’s going to be tough for imported powders to be consistently FSMA-compliant, given their oversight or lack thereof. Meanwhile, for us, transparency and food safety are already baked into our business model and daily operations, so to speak.
China, in particular, struggles with issues of transparency, one of which is falsified organic certificates. In the United States, organic certification operates under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), which vets all companies―whether grower, processor or sales organization―and audits them yearly to ensure they’re compliant with USDA certified organic standards. In the last year, the NOP has issued quite a few alerts warning customers, retailers and manufacturers that so-called organic ingredients from China aren’t just non-organic: they’re not even the food (eg spinach, kale) that the labels say they are.
Here in the U.S., our oversight is much more validated. If you’re a fresh market organic grower here, you won’t get very far in the supply chain without certification and annual audits. Even to be a player in the game, the buy-in is much more regulated.
So, while domestic suppliers will probably never be able to compete one-to-one with China’s price point on exported powders (even if, like us, they use excess crop), we offer validation with what we put on the label. At Spinaca Farms, we stand behind the purity of every powder we produce, not only for their functional nutrition or because they mitigate waste; we stand behind them because we feed them to our own families.
And that’s a promise worth more than the value of any certification.