Approximately twenty-five years ago, the Chinese government decided to remake the country. China was up to that point a completely Stalinist-Maoist economy, wallowing in poverty, despite the fact that it is the world’s third largest country, blessed with various climates and abundant natural resources.
The Chinese government decided to privatize all state owned industry and encouraged foreign investment, ending the old policy of isolation. The results have been nothing short of miraculous.
China is the only country in the world where there has been seven percent annual economic growth for the past ten years and it has grown into an economic powerhouse. Chinese companies are now trying to buy and merge with American and other Western companies, as China is now quite cash rich and seeking resources to fuel its rise even further. Chinese exports have grown by 32.7% to $645 billion. It’s GDP has quadrupled since 1978.
This has had a direct effect on the kosher marketplace. Food companies across the globe have turned to China to source ingredients. This naturally has led to a rise in the number of kosher certifying agencies trekking to China to ascertain the acceptability of these items from a kosher perspective. The OU alone has grown close to 200 percent in China in the last three years.
Agricultural products have become a major Chinese export. This is especially true in coastal areas near Hong Kong and opposite Taiwan, from the Jiangyuan province through the Guangdong province.
Many mammoth-sized U.S. food corporations are purchasing their dehydrated and frozen fruits and vegetables from this region. Among the many OU kosher certified companies that have plants there are Euro-Asia Fruits, Hangzhou Landbridge, Hefei Mettle Trading, Huzhou Kangfalai Dehydrated, Huzhou Taurus, Jiangxi Jinyuan Agricultural Development, Kimeta International, Laiyang Luhua Foodstuffs, Linyi DH WM Freeze Dry Foods, Linyi Quanyi Foodstuffs, Linyi Shenhe Foodstuffs, Linyi Wanquan, Ningxia Lihe, Qingdao Fusi Wanfu, Qingdao Fuso Refining, Qingdao Huajie Foods, Shanghai Richfield International and Zhejiang Zhongda Newland. The Howenia company also has several certified plants in mainland China.
In addition, industry is increasingly turning to China for food additives, including nutritional supplements, flavoring agents, coloring agents and texturing agents. Foreign capital investment has led to the construction of many state-of-the-art factories which specialize in the production of food additives. Among food additives companies the OU certifies are the BBCA Group and Shandong Gold Millet.
Another area which has grown is that of the casein industry; casein is the protein of milk. The main geographic location of casein processing is the Tibetan highlands, where millions of yak graze.
The process of becoming OU kosher certified is actually simple. An application (which is available in Chinese and accessible from our website) is submitted to either me or to Mr. Zhu Yanan, who runs the OU Beijing office. We then assign one of our rabbinic field representatives to visit the plant and to help us make a determination if the plant can be kosher certified. Usually it can, though sometimes we may have to make changes in ingredients or sourcing. At this stage too, Mr. Yanan’s role is highlighted as he helps Chinese companies understand what the OU is all about and what we are asking for.
Our rabbinic field representatives who work there are for the most part based in China. They are familiar with Chinese culture and respect it; they are well liked and respected in return.
We use three rabbinic field representatives. They are Rabbis Martin Grunberg, Shalom Greenberg and Shimon Freundlich. Rabbi Grunberg has 25 years of experience in the field of kosher certification, having worked in the OU New York office before his relocation to Israel in 1996. Subsequently, he joined the team of rabbinic field representatives, earned a reputation of distinction, and has since become one of our senior operatives in the Far East.
Rabbi Shalom Greenberg left a comfortable existence in Brooklyn, NY seven years ago to create and run the Shanghai Jewish Center. This entity consists of a synagogue, Hebrew school, adult education center and kosher restaurant. Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, originally from South Africa, went to school in the United States and was ordained in Brooklyn. Five years ago he moved to Beijing to build the Chabad Center of Beijing, which consists of a synagogue, Hebrew school, adult education center and kosher restaurant. It should be noted that both of these restaurants specialize in kosher Chinese food – no surprise, given the growth of OU Kosher in China.