Just a warning, this article contains information that may be hard to read or may upset some readers. We have chosen not to show images of the atrocities due to their graphic nature.
To start out I just want to say that yes, there are lots of problems in the United States (and all other countries) that need to be addressed and that are horrific in and of themselves. Criticizing the practices of a government does not mean you have anything against the people of that country, any more than criticizing Trump or Biden means that you hate America or Americans.
China is the largest supplier of raw materials to the supplement industry by far. This is why extra scrutiny needs to be applied. The vast majority of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and herbs all come from China. Each year the percentage of ingredients that come from China increases. So it is imperative that we address human rights as it relates to the supplement industry. There are other countries that we work to avoid buying products made with ingredients from, but China is committing atrocities at a level and horror unseen in other countries.
“The truth is these are nothing less than modern concentration camps, complete with armed guards, forced labor and barbed-wire fences. Inside, prisoners are indoctrinated with Communist Party propaganda, forced to renounce Islam, and have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of their religious beliefs.”
They are expanding and building more and more of these camps:
“We have a saying in Hotan: If you go into a concentration camp in Luopu, you never come out,” said Adil Awut*, from Hotan City, who is now living overseas.”
“Yet, the buildup continues. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyzed 28 camps across Xinjiang and found they had expanded 465% in size since 2016, with the largest growth between July and September last year. Five camps in Hotan city and surrounding counties had at least doubled in size, with one camp increasing 2,469% between 2016 and 2018.”
In a village in Luopu county, almost every home has a plaque on the door marking it a “model red star family”. These are families who have met requirements, including demonstrating “anti-extremism thought” and a “sense of modern civilization”.
Then there is the forced harvesting of organs:
"The organs of members of marginalized groups detained in Chinese prison camps are being forcefully harvested — sometimes when patients are still alive, an international tribunal sitting in London has concluded.
“Falun Gong practitioners have been one — and probably the main — source of organ supply,” the judgment read, while “the concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs are more recent,” using a different spelling of the minority group's name. It warned, however, that the scale of medical testing of the Uighur Muslims meant they could end up being used as an "organ bank."
Harvesting organs while people are still alive and often without anesthesia or other pain relief is one of the cruelest practices imaginable.
The list of human rights violations and awful practices by the Chinese government would take volumes to write. What we have described here is just the tip of the iceberg. If you would like to learn more in detail about the the human rights violations in China, check out reports here and here.
"The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he could not believe his eyes. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their factory compound without a word. . . . When the dumping began, crops wilted from the white dust, which sometimes rose in clouds several feet off the ground and spread over the fields as the liquid dried. Village farmers began to faint and became ill. . . .
Reckless dumping of industrial waste is everywhere in China. But what caught the attention of The Washington Post was that the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company was a "green energy" company producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world.
We are using too many raw materials to sustain [our] growth ... Our raw materials are scarce, we don't have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently there [are] 1.3 billion people living in China, that's twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion ... but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years ... Acid rain is falling on one third of Chinese territory, half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 percent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner ... Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn't include the costs for health ... In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.
China's rivers suffer huge spills of all kinds of toxic chemicals - benzene, xanthogenate, aniline - every year. In north China, the Yellow River "is a catastrophe" and the 300-odd rivers that drain the North China Plain "are open sewers if they are not completely dry" in the words of Ma Jun, China's leading authority on the country's water crisis. According to a government report, the Yangtze River, the world's third longest, is seriously and irreversibly polluted. Long stretches are said to be in "critical condition," in places, too dangerous even to touch. Aquatic life has all but collapsed. Pollution and shipping wiped out China's legendary Yangtze Baiji dolphin while even common carp "are gasping for survival." The 500-mile-long reservoir filling up behind the huge Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze qualifies as the world's biggest cesspool. In some areas groundwater is being irreversibly polluted as textile dyeing mills and other factories, looking to avoid fines for dumping their effluents into rivers, instead drill and pump them into the earth."
This is but a small fraction of all the environmental issues facing China. To list them all out would require a book longer than I could ever hope to write.
This polluted water, containing massive amounts of toxic chemicals (including some we have no idea about), is used to water crops, including “organic” food and herbs used in making supplements. While companies can test for a lot of contaminants, there are many many toxic ingredients in the water, air and soil that are simply not tested for because they are not even known they could be present. To give one example, many milk thistle supplements from China contain gasoline residue. Even if companies use the best quality control and testing procedures available, it would be impossible to test for all possible contaminants and ones that could be contaminating ingredients, that we do not even know are there.
Adulteration and Quality Control
Another issue is illegal price fixing. Chinese companies are supported (and sometimes mandated) by the government and will often sell products at a loss to put competitors in other countries out of business and then jack up the prices, once the other companies are gone. One great example of this is vitamin C:
"The defendants, Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. and an affiliated company, North China Pharmaceutical Group Corp. , said their conduct was required by Chinese regulations on export pricing. The Chinese government took the unusual step of filing papers in U.S. courts, saying the companies shouldn’t be penalized because their practices were indeed mandated by state industrial regulation."
China in the late 1990s established the Vitamin C Sub-Committee under the Commerce Ministry, which included manufacturers and exporters, to prevent market disorder, according to Mahr. The Commerce Ministry even issued regulations requiring the subcommittee to limit vitamin-C production and set export prices to promote industry self-discipline and facilitate the healthy development of Chinese exports.
This is terrible for consumers and bad for an industry.
Quality Control and adulteration is a massive problem in the supplement industry, but especially with ingredients from China. Yes, it is possible to get clean ingredients from China, but it is incredibly difficult. Ethical ingredients are a whole other story. While other countries, including the United States, do have some quality control and adulteration of raw material issues, none even come close to the problems with ingredients from China. There are too many issues and examples to go through all of them, but here are just a few:
Adulteration of raw materials. Adulteration of raw materials can take many forms. One example is bilberry. Many bilberry products contain no actual bilberry at all but are a combination of Chinese charcoal, amaranth red food dye (banned because of how dangerous it is) and black soybean hulls.
Contamination of raw materials. Heavy metals such as lead are common contaminants in Chinese raw materials. Twenty-five samples were screened for the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Twenty contained at least one heavy metal. Eleven contained all three metals. In many cases the amount consumed per day, if the product dose instructions were followed, would result in heavy metal consumption that exceeded safe levels. Many cordyceps mushrooms actually have wires with lead inserted into the mushroom in order to increase the weight.
Herbicides and pesticides. Tests conducted by Greenpeace East Asia on 36 samples of Chinese herbal products exported from China and collected from stores in London, Virginia (near Washington DC), Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Milan, Toronto and Vancouver, have revealed the following:
32 samples (nearly 90% of all the samples!) contained three or more kinds of pesticides. The record goes to Germany and Canada where the samples of honeysuckle contained 26 and 24 different types of pesticides respectively.
Almost half of all samples (17) contain pesticides listed as highly or extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO)
Some 26 samples showed pesticide residue levels that exceeded what the European authorities consider the maximum level for safety (MRLs).
Pharmaceutical drugs are common contaminants also. One local health food store in the Hudson Valley (I cannot tell you which one, for obvious reasons) was even selling a Chinese herbal supplement that was found to have a prescription erectile dysfunction medication.
There is the transshipping issue as well. Ingredients grown in China will be shipped to various other countries and then relabeled as being from that country even though it was not. This is a significant source of adulteration.
With all of these issues and others we could not get to, it is just not possible to guarantee that ingredients from China are pure, safe, properly tested and ethically produced. The only way forward is just to avoid all ingredients from China.
Supplement companies are not required to say where their raw materials come from, so you cannot know by looking at a label. Often companies do not know where they come from, because they are buying from middle men.
We are working so hard to avoid all products made with raw materials from China. Our Farm-To-Bottle project is our best weapon in this fight. By buying products from companies with their own farms or who buy directly from the farmers, wildcrafters, and fisherman we can ensure that we know exactly where the materials come from and that they were ethically produced. Each year Josh goes and visits many of them to get in in-depth look at the goings. Farm-To-Bottle is the solution to transparency and ethical issues.
It has not been easy trying to source products free from Chinese ingredients in an industry that is increasingly moving towards more of them. We are extremely proud of the effort we have made and will continue to work towards our goal.
Currently we can definitely confirm that about 90% of our products are free of Chinese ingredients. Another five percent we are almost 100% certain, but are waiting for more documentation and proof. The remaining five percent may contain Chinese ingredients and we are working to replace them or helping the companies to transition to non-chinese materials.
Rooted Nutrition actually has a program, that we offer completely free, to companies who want to transition to ethically sourced raw materials. To date this program has replaced thousands of questionable materials with ethically sourced ones. We consider this program to be a resouding success and hope it continues to grow strongly.
Once we hit our goal of 100 percent Farm-To-Bottle products then we can be sure that everything is free of Chinese ingredients.
We believe that products cannot truly be beneficial if they cause serious harm to people and the environment. We cannot continue to externalize the costs and harms caused by these products and pretend that the only thing that matters is that a finished product tests well.
Look for this symbol below, on products in our shop, to show that a product is Farm-To-Bottle, traceable, and transparent.