Torres loses organic certification in China

China has revoked the organic certification rights given to the organic certification agency Ceres’ Shanghai branch after its managing director was convicted of fraud for issuing doctored organic certification results, revoking in the process organic certifications given to seven companies including Spain’s leading wine producer Torres, in mainland China.

A screengrab of Ceres Shanghai’s website

The decision was announced by China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration on its website in mid April, but got picked up by Chinese media only this month.

According to the statement, seven companies that have been previously certified organic by Shanghai Ceres can no longer use certifications issued by Ceres Shanghai to promote their products within mainland China.

The other six companies named by the Chinese agricultural accreditation watchdog agency are JoySpring, Agricola Fruticola Maranello, Hibernia Misones, Borges Organic Olive Oil Company and Elite Natural.

The announcement did not delve into details about how they came about the fraud or if the companies indicated are aware of the Shanghai company’s fraudulent behaviour.

A search of organic certification ID F50OP1600054 is now shown as defunct on China’s accreditation website

Two of the certificates given to Torres Shanghai bearing the IDs – F50OP1600054 and F50OP1700047 – are pronounced defunct, and will affect roughly 2,700 tonnes of wines that are certified organic, based on a search of the two IDs on China’s Agricultural Product Certification and Accreditation website. 

F50OP1600054 ID is given to Torres for 2,110 tonnes of its wines made from the winery’s six vineyard sites that are certified organic, according to the website, while F50OP1700047 is given to Torres’ reds and Sauvignon Blanc wines for a total amount of 599.673 tonnes of organic wines. Both search results on the website have shown the certificates are now defunct (as shown in photo).

Speaking to dbHK in Hong Kong, Alberto Fernández, managing partner of Torres China, clarified the volume stated on the Chinese website doesn’t mean the wines are all sold in China, or reflect the wines affected in the market. 

The cause of the fiasco with Torres’ certification is due to a change of law in January this year that now requires certification approved by both a Chinese inspector and a foreign inspector approved by the Chinese National Certification Agency (CNCA) after on-site inspection, according to Fernández. Previously, on-site inspection could be done by a designated foreign inspector, then approved by a certified Chinese inspector. 

“We brought 2,300 cases of wine, which is about 30,000 bottles. Everything was lined up to sell to the customers, then we received a phone call from Ceres saying, we have some issue with CNCA, they are reviewing the certification and they changed the rules for certifications, and your certifications might be cancelled,” Fernández recalled when he received the phone call from Ceres in January this year. 

“We did not do anything wrong, now they have these procedure problems,” he insisted, dismissing any claims of fraudulent behaviour on Torres’ part. “Now we need to relabel, take out the stickers and repackage.”

He revealed the company is in talks with relevant organisations to find a solution.

“Once organic certificate has been revoked, implicated products can no longer use the certificate for advertisement and promotion. All products bearing the certificates in the market should be recalled and repackaged. Those that can’t be recalled, should be destroyed. The companies shall bear all the costs. Otherwise, it will be false advertising and misleading consumers,” a source from one food accreditation organisation told Chinese media Wine Business Observer.

This seems to be a part of larger clampdown on organic certification agencies and programmes for various agricultural products in mainland China, as consumers are more aware of food safety and willing to pay a premium for organic products. There are currently 68 organic certification organisations in China, and problems of lax scrutiny and inspection are not uncommon among the agencies, reported Chinese newspaper New Beijing Daily.

By the end of 2016, at least four organic certification agencies had been closed down or suspended, the newspaper said. Stickers and certificates bearing words of organic and green products are even up for sale on China’s popular e-commerce platforms.

A family-run winery, Torres has been advocating green viticulture for years, and Miguel Torres has been recognised for his contribution to green viticulture as well.

Organic products including organic wines are gaining traction in mainland China as consumers pay more attention to food safety and green lifestyle. According to Vinexpo, Asia’s organic market is experiencing solid growth, with consumption of organic produce (including wine and spirits) valued at US$7.5 billion in 2014. China contributed $4.5 billion to the total, where specialist stores are appearing in increasing numbers, particularly in Beijing and Shanghai.

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