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The Problem With China.

Updated: Jan 8

Trigger warning:

This article contains information that may be upsetting to some readers. Certain links contain pictures and information that are very disturbing.


I want to make it very clear that this is solely about the Chinese government, not about the Chinese people. Violence and racism against people of Chinese descent are horrific and appalling. 

No Racism

I also want to say that there are many problems in the United States (and all other countries) that need to be addressed and 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 we devote so much time to discussing it versus other countries.  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, environmental, and labor issues related to the supplement industry. There are other countries that we work to avoid buying products made with ingredients from (such as Russia). Still, China is committing atrocities and horrors at a level unseen in other countries, so it deserves more scrutiny.


Whenever we purchase products with ingredients produced in China, it gives some money to the government in the form of taxes on those materials. So even if the ingredients are not produced problematically, it still funds the unethical behaviors.


Human Rights

 “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”."


Many of them are forced to make products and raw materials for companies. This is one of the most important reasons to avoid buying products made with Chinese ingredients. It is nearly impossible to know which companies use forced labor and which are not due to fake inspections and certifications.

Hands in barbed wire

​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."



"The consent of prisoners to use their organs after death, although required by law, appears rarely to be sought. In some cases, prisoners and their families are not even informed that the organs will be removed, although in others, the families are given cash payments. Since the prisoner's body is cremated immediately after execution and any last written will or statement can be censored by the authorities, moreover, family members have no way of ascertaining whether or not organs have been removed.


The execution procedure prescribed by Chinese law (shooting in the back of the head), is sometimes violated in order to expedite harvesting of prisoners' organs. According to Chinese legal authorities, some executions are even deliberately mishandled to ensure that the prisoners are not yet dead when their organs are removed."

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 want to learn more about it, check out reports here and here.

Save the Uyghurs

Save Uyghur is dedicated to freeing and getting justice for the Uyghur people. We highly recommend checking them out for more in-depth information on what is happening to the Uyghur people and supporting their work.


Environmental Issues


"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” (non-organic ingredients labeled as organic is a huge problem with food exports from China), food and herbs used in making supplements. While companies can test for many contaminants, a lot of toxic ingredients in the water, air, and soil are not tested for because they are not part of standard testing protocols. For 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. In addition, there are many contaminants and pollutants that result when several compounds are mixed together in an uncontrolled environment, like a lake or river. These are called secondary pollutants. Many of these have little to no research done on them and what their harm might be to people and the environment.


Companies often choose ingredients from China because they are significantly less expensive and cheap, and dirty energy is one of the biggest reasons they are so cheap.


Using dirty coal-fired energy is much cheaper than other forms of energy, but that comes at a great cost to the environment. We should be getting raw materials, whenever possible, from countries transitioning away from coal, not building vast numbers of coal-fired power plants every year.​


China is too polluted and getting worse by the day to produce sufficient amounts of clean raw materials to fill the massive demand from supplement and food companies. We think it's worth paying a few more pennies per bottle for better, more ethically produced ingredients.


Pollution in China

Price Fixing


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 1990's 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 the industry.

The vitamin C gang

Check our blog, All About Vitamin C, to learn what to look for in a vitamin C supplement and meet the vitamin C gang.


Adulteration And Quality Control


Quality Control and adulteration are massive problems in the supplement industry, but especially with ingredients from China. 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, have some quality control and adulteration issues, none even come close to the problems with ingredients from China. One thing to keep in mind is that many American companies are demanding such cheap raw materials that sometimes they cannot make them that cheap without adulterating them, so part of the blame is on the American companies who are putting profits above people. There are too many issues and examples to go through all of them, but here are just a few:

 

  1. 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. Instead, they are a combination of Chinese charcoal, amaranth red food dye (banned because of how dangerous it is), and black soybean hulls.

  2. 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, if the product dose instructions were followed, the amount consumed per day would result in heavy metal consumption that exceeded safe levels. Many cordycep mushrooms have wires with lead inserted into them to increase their weight.

  3. ​Herbicides and pesticides - Tests conducted by Greenpeace East Asia on thirty-six 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:

    1. Thirty-two samples (nearly ninety percent ) contained three or more kinds of pesticides. The record goes to Germany and Canada, where the samples of honeysuckle contained twenty-six and twenty-four different types of pesticides, respectively.

    2. Almost half of all samples (seventeen) contain pesticides listed as highly or extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    3. Some twenty-six samples showed pesticide residue levels that exceeded what the European authorities consider the maximum level for safety (MRLs).


Pharmaceutical drugs are common contaminants. One health food store here in the Hudson Valley was even selling a Chinese herbal supplement that was found to have a prescription erectile dysfunction medication.

Royal Dragon herbal tonic balls

Then there is the issue of transshipping. 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. Check out this Netflix show to learn more about transshipping.

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 to work towards a goal of avoiding 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 middlemen or the ingredients were produced with materials from a lot of different suppliers. In addition, the source can change from batch to batch, and companies do not have to disclose this information.


We are working so hard to avoid all products made with raw materials from China. Our Farm-To-Bottle Project is the best weapon in this fight. By buying whole food supplements from companies with their own farms or who buy directly from the farmers, wildcrafters, and fishermen, we can ensure that we know precisely where the materials come from and that they were ethically produced. I visit many of them each year to get an in-depth look at what's going on. 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 seventy percent of our products are free of Chinese ingredients. Another fifteen percent, we are almost one hundred percent certain but are waiting for more documentation and proof or working to replace with a source we can be completely sure of. The remaining fifteen percent may contain Chinese ingredients, and we are working to replace them or help the companies transition to non-Chinese materials.

 

Rooted Nutrition has a program that we offer completely free to companies who want to transition to ethically sourced, truly traceable raw materials. To date, this program has replaced countless questionable materials with ethically sourced ones. We consider this program to be a resounding success and hope it continues to grow strongly.

We hope to one day have every product we sell to be part of our Farm-To-Bottle Project.

 

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 on products in our shop, to show that it is traceable, and transparent. 

The Farm To Bottle Project

If you have any questions about our products, you can always email us at info@rooted-nutrition.com, and we would be happy to help get you the information you need!


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