This article consolidates two previous posts and many updates dating back to April, 2013 when we began reporting this story about soap nuts coming from China. Our policy is to avoid disclosing company names, so we will simply refer to the retailer as “China Berry Seller”. We believe there’s a high probability the seller (or sellers) of China-grown soap berries will use other names in the future, hence we won’t limit the full scope of this post. The fraudulent and illegal activities do refer to the specific entity/salesperson actively operating as of March, 2014.
11-4-13: The Legal Enforcement Department of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has contacted the Greenville, South Carolina based operation. A complaint against “China Berry Seller” was filed with the NOP in April, 2013. It was investigated, and they were determined to be in violation of USDA NOP Federal regulations. In January, 2014 the company was ordered to cease the fraudulent abuse of USDA Organic Certification compliance. (Documentation available upon request.) Their web site was terminated. Please contact SoapNuts.Pro (or the USDA NOP directly) if you find any seller of China-grown soap berries making claims of Certified Organic within the US or Canada. We found 15 separate violations reviewing only two web sites. (Carrying a fine of up to $11,000 per violation.) This company has subsequently begun making unsupported claims of organic certification in China, which is neither recognized nor acceptable in the USA.
Astonishingly, (as of 4-2014) the China berry seller falsely claims that the USDA investigation was simply closed (as if innocent of the fraud allegations). They deny ever claiming to be Certified Organic. As quoted by the Enforcement Division Director of the USDA National Organic Program, “The complaint alleged that <intentionally deleted> was representing its soap berries as “certified organic” without NOP certification, in violation of the USDA organic regulations. Our investigation confirmed the allegations.”
There’s no ifs, nor buts. They lied then – and they continue to lie today. Period. Their nebulous claim to have approval by some “Chinese authority” is only more meaningless hype – nothing else. It can’t even be verified. In fact, they have never provided any proof of anything ever claimed. Since day one, their only constant has been their never-ending parade of false claims. Deception and trickery are their sole stock in trade.
WHAT’S KNOWN (and not):
1 – We can find no registered business (or dba business) with the names known to be used by “China Berry Seller” in the state of South Carolina (the last known ship-from location).
2 – The entity’s web site was terminated during the federal investigation. This is very significant for without an active Internet presence, they become very difficult to trace. (If not for the active web site last year, we would have had much more difficulty filing a federal complaint.) The previously published phone number and email address are also now invalid.
3 – The company shows a “TM” on their name, but no application can be found for any US trademark pending. A “TM” is the designation authorized by the United States Patent and Trademark (USPTO) for a business with a Federal trademark on file and pending approval. You can verify this through the US Patent and Trademark electronic search system.
4 – Bogus consumer reviews, feedback, phony pictures, etc. have been documented – commonly referred to as “seeding or “planting” to make a product’s post or listing appear more reliable. Some consumers who questioned “China Berry Seller” claims were subsequently harassed – described as “attacked” by one.
5 – Currently found only on third-party sales sites such as eBay, Amazon, Etsy (strange being that Etsy is supposed to sell only handmade products – certainly not Chinese imports), and/or various auction type e-commerce sites. They continually shuffle titles, pictures, descriptions, prices, sizes, etc. to create confusion among consumers.
6 – Pound-to-pound, or ounce-to-ounce, they’re about the same price or marginally less than high quality USDA Certified Organic soap nuts offered by well known US businesses with excellent reputations.
7 – Seller proclaims to be “sole source of authentic Chinese soapberry”, and in next breath claims, “origin of the best soapberry species (Mukorossi)”. In full context this is intended to be a claim of superiority “over all others”. “Soap Berry Seller” is correct that mukorossi is indigenous to China, and we also consider it the premier species. However its heritage runs deep in ancient Indian culture – dating back thousands of years (pre-biblical, per one Indian historian and SNP reader). Such grandiose, misleading, shallow claims are hallmarks of the seller.
SIGNIFICANT ISSUE: They now process no orders, nor do any direct e-commerce. They also won’t disclose their location or contact info. This is a quite revealing point. The following are several reasons this is likely the case:
A) They can use a well-known e-commerce site in hopes of gaining credibility via association.
B) They can obtain visibility and exposure by following reputable US retailers.
C) They greatly minimize liability. By not processing/shipping orders, in the event of lawsuits, they may avoid Federal prosecution due to use of the US Postal Service – which automatically elevates the crime to the Federal level. The use of only third-party retail sites creates “arms-length” transactions, thus limits a buyer’s ability to initiate legal actions, or even locate the seller.
D) They are unable to obtain the required e-commerce security levels and credit ratings required to operate an e-commerce site.
PLEASE NOTE: We do not know all the details behind the site’s sudden closure, but are very comfortable making these points. There are more possibilities, but we’ll limit reasons to the simplest and most logical.
BACKGROUND INFO: We were first made aware of this scenario developing in December of 2012 when approached and pitched by the Chinese soap berry supplier. We explained that SoapNuts.pro is not a store, but is a reference and resource for both sellers and consumers alike. However, our curiosity was peaked, and our gears began turning… Who in the world would attempt selling China-grown products in the USA? Most US consumers are already wary of products from China – in particular agricultural goods.
About a month later, we found this person fraudulently using OTHER company’s online product listings to sell their soap berries. Amazingly, it’s fairly easy to do this – particularly on sites permitting multiple sellers such as Amazon (where we learned of it happening). Ever receive a totally incorrect product, or a cheap knock-off of a product, and then blame the sales site? Well, it’s not necessarily the site’s error. There’s a ton of online fraud every day – we all know it. An unethical seller can manipulate listings (until they’re caught). Amazon can’t monitor what every seller is doing, but certainly takes action when fraud is reported. And that’s what happened. The phony listings were deleted. Afterwards, the seller created new listings using their current name.
Once acquiring their own listings, they began making lots of grandiose claims – such as “30 years of research and development”, and “the largest soap berry plantation in the world”. Hmmm??? And added that as China “plantation” grown (i.e., field grown), they could be offered cheaper than other brands. However, apparently there was a problem: They didn’t sell – even initially at half the price of US brands. As anticipated, health and safety conscious Western consumers didn’t want soap berries grown in China. The known and heavily documented risks of chemical and biological contamination are simply too great.
After months of dismal sales, virtually overnight ALL references to CHINA – completely disappeared. No country of origin and little detail was provided. Product information and description became very generic.
Later, the China-grown claims re-entered the descriptions – but THEN the fraudulent claims of USDA Organic Certification began. And this totally crossed the line for it violated USDA Federal Regulations. This wasn’t just a bunch of sales hype anymore – it was a Federal Offense, and we knew it. At this juncture we began posting about it, plus began compiling the evidence to file our official complaint to the USDA NOP.
Within hours of publishing our original post, the company owner wrote with demands and threats. The following is verbatim from his email:
“I am Tony R-.
We had conversation in last Dec about soapberry. I own “China Berry Seller” in SC and soapberry plantation in China. I am disappointed to see posts in soapnuts.pro against my company. “China Berry Seller” is conquering the market in US and we aim to a long term position and benefits in this market. I can take action to the libel and disparagement. I know you do not want to see us in this market. We are already here and we will stay. Take the negative articles off your sites!”
NOTE: When asked specifically what was not true, he didn’t respond. We explained that he cannot legally claim Certified Organic – and thought that he would voluntarily do the right thing – but he didn’t. If anything, he become even bolder in making false claims, and in his use of deceptive, doctored up, phony images.
A personal note: I think Tony should be reminded that we American citizens do not take kindly – nor lightly – to the notion of being a “conquered” people. We remain a people and nation of some of the highest standards the world has ever known. We think for ourselves. We care about the health and safety of our families. We respect honesty, disclosure – and the truth. Unlike China, we have a Constitution granting us inalienable rights, and freedom from oppression. Freedom of choice, thought, expression and speech are OUR rights. – AND LASTLY: Our American markets and personal standards are not up for sale nor grab. OUR quality of life will not be determined or compromised simply by some low bidder. – Chris
Since day one, the seller has changed company names, product names, features, origins, descriptions, pictures, sizes, prices, etc. so often that we cannot keep track of them all anymore. The following are only some of the current and past published claims and actions by this company:
• Making homemade liquid from these soap berries is strongly promoted without mention of the potential hazards. Making liquid makes sense due to the gumminess from excessive moisture, and the difficulty in handling when used traditionally. (See picture of handling.) Please read posts and FAQs relating to homemade botanical liquid. Be aware of the short shelf life of unpreserved soap berry liquid, and take the necessary precautions.
• “China Berry Seller” soapberry comes from the “world largest soapberry plantation” and that is the reason they can beat any other sellers price, in any selling platform. They now claim their product is from a mountain “forest” – not a “plantation” anymore. Frankly, we can find no hard data at all as to where they actually come from.
• After over “30 years of research and cultivation”, results in “China Berry Seller” soapberry containing “way higher saponin than all others”. (This is an astounding claim. There was barely a market for them only 10 years ago. In China they are viewed as an insignificant commodity, for there is virtually no importance given to non-toxic alternative products. “Green” initiatives are barely on the radar screen in China. Plus, where are independent lab reports if true? Logic dictates that they’d move heaven and earth to show proof if any truth existed. But no – not a single shred of evidence is offered. From growers, to harvesters, to exporters, to distributors, to retailers across the globe, we’ve never heard even one make such an outlandish claim.)
• Our “soapberries are certified organic products under categories of production, process, and marketing or grown in organic way or using organic processes”. Initially their organic claims began with such dubious and misleading wording. As time passed, they evolved into making the direct claim of being “Certified Organic”. We suspect that they became emboldened and thought they could get away with it. In either case, USDA NOP regulations state that all such claims are fraudulent usage.
• The most recent claim we’ve seen is, “approved as organic soapberry product by China authority”. See next bullet point.
• After the USDA National Organic Program enforcement agents found the Chinese seller in violation of USDA regulations and standards in Nov. 2013, they finally removed all fraudulent statements of USDA Organic Certification. They now mention only Chinese agencies, and going through US Customs which is mandatory for all cargo entering the US. (Google up “China organic fraud” for an eye-opening look at the flood of fraudulent activities occurring in China.) We have been unable to verify any organic certification from China at all. Since there is no US certifying agency involved, any claim could be made. Given that they fraudulently claimed USDA Certification, it is only reasonable to assume they may fraudulently claim Chinese certification. (No US agency regulates Chinese agencies.) China’s General Admin. for Quality Supervision, Inspection & Quarantine (AQSIQ) announced that revisions for Organic Product Certification to become effective April 1, 2014. We’re digging into that.
• They refer to themselves as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). Are we talking hardware/tools or fruit here? Just think about it.
• We “inspect and pack soapberry in US”. NOTE: This is stated in a context to imply a significant benefit as with a USDA authorized Handler. We believe this is stated to compare to other companies who sort and package in the US, but do so offering high quality berries with the assurance of toxin-free packaging facilities. Official USDA Certified Handlers pay large fees and go through rigorous inspections to maintain the high standards demanded of them. There are only a handful of legitimate authorized Handlers of soap nuts. There is no US certifying agency of this company and no inspections are made, hence there’s no way to know anything about the physical environment and conditions the product is packaged in. We only know of an apartment and a house as recent locations shipped from.
• Posting manipulated, false representations of the China-grown berries compared to other sellers. (The images and comments are very misleading – totally bogus when compared to high-quality berries from reputable US companies.)
• They claim dark red/brown color as being representative of “high saponin content”. This is totally false – again. If apples to apples (i.e. same species), color is primarily indicative of age and storage conditions. (Experienced soap nut users know that fresh berries are yellow/golden when harvested, and then darken over time. Very dark colored berries are often from a previous year’s harvest. Color changes naturally – and has NO correlation to saponin content. As recently as March, 2014 we have seen phony, doctored pictures used in their marketing (the “ours vs. others” type). In large lots of soap berries there will be significant differences from one berry to another. See our post on Variations. “China Berry Seller” is preying upon inexperienced buyers – trying to make their product appear superior.
• The wetness of the berries is again a distortion of the facts. Wetness indicates the presence of excess moisture (water) – not saponin content. Excessive moisture even adds unwanted weight. As some will recall, such excessive wetness was suspected as playing a large role of the closure of Maggie’s Pure Land Soap Nuts. The dark red, soggy Maggie’s soap nuts were NOT high in saponin content – they were simply too moist – ultimately turning them into a disgusting glob. FYI: There’s a post-harvest rainy season in much of Asia. Exporters want them shipped out quickly. They are not stored in climate-controlled warehouses overseas – far from it. Hence the potential for berries being stuck in rain and high humidity are high.
• They claim mukorossi to be meaningful of only a soap berry of Chinese origin. This is a dumb claim to make. Mukorossi (and many other species) are indigenous to Asia. The term “Chinese soapberry” is commonly given to many species. The term is so loosely used it is almost meaningless. There are age-old historical references to soap berries in nearly all Asian cultures. Most predominant are the associations to the Hindi names of Ritha, Reetha, and Aritha (soap nut powder used in ancient Indian Ayurveda medicines and treatments). Misuse of the term mukorossi is also commonplace. Probably a third of eBay’s sellers are selling trifoliatus, saponaria, or some other species and don’t understand the difference. Some large herb companies do not even make any distinction between the species. As for “China Berry Seller”, this appears to be just attempt to BS consumers.
• They routinely change product info. Even sizes and weights have been known to change day-to-day. Apparently measures are taken to throw the consumers off balance. i.e., They don’t use Universal Product Codes. That’s standard with modern businesses that intend to grow. The rationale behind the UPC bar code system is accurate product identification. By not using UPC codes, specifications can be changed at will. This explains how one day an item is one pound, and the next day it’s 1.5 pounds. They cause exactly what the standards are established to prevent – CONFUSION. Lack of bar coding makes it easy to manipulate products on third-party sites, thus increasing the possibility for consumer errors. Most good companies work hard to ensure bar code accuracy for it’s in everyone’s best interest. Good companies don’t want unhappy, frustrated customers – and returns because a product is not as expected. UPC systems cost money to implement, but the consumer benefits are great. It’s nice to know exactly what you’re buying.
It is highly possible (even probable) that another brand will pop up with the same berries, a new name, and no mention of China again. The current seller of China-grown berries may vanish and reemerge anew. (They were selling under a different name when we were first contacted.) Now that they know the USDA NOP enforces Organic Certification claims, hopefully they won’t try that again.
Why not just tell the WHOLE truth and play it straight? If there are folks in the US that want to knowingly use agriculture products (or any product), from China, they will. There’s no need to add insult to injury with lies and deceptions for ALL THOSE that spend time doing their homework.
ABOUT CHINA (relevant facts and recent news): The following information goes beyond the subject of soap berries, but in researching China’s agriculture and hearing so often in the news about tainted products from China coming in the US, we feel it important to share what we’ve found:
Between 1980 and 2007 Chinas food exports (as a percentage of total exports) fell from a small 17% to a scant 3%! Why? Nobody trusts them or wants them anymore. During the same period, machinery and equipment rose from 4% to a massive 47%!
China is no longer a significant global agricultural exporter. Today, it is a leading industrial exporter. Due to this industrialization, China’s pollution has reached extreme levels. Little environmental regulation has lead to extraordinarily high toxicity levels across the country. Unsanitary conditions are commonplace. Many of the world’s products that result in health hazards originate in China. Rarely a week goes by without something awful in the news. In recent years China is making stronger efforts to clean up their environment. But it will take many years of strong commitments before the air, water, and the soil may begin to become less hazardous. Under USDA regulations, it requires three decades to detox tainted lands for potential organic farming use.
Recent Relevant Press Releases:
Global Post (Adam Rose, Thomson Reuters) 10-21-13:
– China smog emergency shuts city of 11 million people.
Xinhua news agency reported that the smog forced all primary and middle schools to shut down along with the airport and some public bus routes. BEIJING, China Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China’s largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter. An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily level of no more than 20. You can’t see your own fingers in front of you, Harbin’s official news site noted.
Washington Post (Associated Press) 10-23-13:
– Poison in jerky treats from China is fatal to some pets, FDA asks pet owners and vets for help.
All that’s left of Doodles are his ashes, a clay impression of his paw and a whole lot of questions the owner has about his mysterious death. Doodles is believed to be one of 580 dogs in the U.S. that have died in the past six years from eating pet jerky from China. Baffled by the cause and seeing another surge in illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration reached out to owners and veterinarians Tuesday to help it find the poison behind the sickening of at least 3,600 dogs and 10 cats.
CBS News MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO Edgar Linares) 10-23-13:
– FDA: Tainted Jerky Treats Sicken Thousands Of Pets.
The Food and Drug Administration is warning pet owners of tainted jerky treats from China after seeing a surge in illnesses. The FDA says 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have gotten sick, and about 580 of those pets have died. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has now tested 1,200 products and visited manufacturing plants in China, but still can’t determine the exact cause. “I’ve had several people say to me. ‘Well, since all of this has been happening I’m much more cautious and I buy only [those] manufactured here in the United States,'” said a veterinary surgeon with a Veterinary Clinic in Eden Prairie. Some of the treats contain chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and dried fruit. In January, the FDA removed a number of treats from store shelves. “I think because it’s starting to resurface more – people are being cautious about what they’re buying,” the surgeon said.
China essentially goes virtually unrivaled in its industrialization over recent decades. It is equally unrivaled in its rapid rise in pollution. Be its air, land or water, China has become possibly the pollution capital of the world. Its days as a significant world player as a farming and agricultural products producing nation are all but over. Put frankly, based upon the research, China has become toxic – highly toxic.
Most Westerners are already wary of Chinese imports in general – with particular fears of food or agricultural products. Most USA consumers wouldn’t even consider getting near, handling or consuming anything grown or raised in China!
Given my love of Chinese cuisine, it’s certainly a relief knowing that most of my favorite Chinese veggies are cultivated in the US or other countries with higher standards for their agricultural products. Water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, soy beans, etc. are being cultivated in the US. Some are even available as USDA Certified Organic. In an interview with the owner of a popular local Chinese restaurant, NOTHING used in their foods comes from China – again nothing. Ginger root from India was the only ingredient he could think of that was of Asian origin. In summary, we may enjoy Chinese and Asian cuisines today – but NOT China grown food products. The main growers are located in Florida, California, Hawaii, and in various South American countries.
But when a dollar is to be made, it becomes only a matter of time before someone tries to jump on it. When a business wants a cheaper product, China usually comes to mind – but NOT for agricultural products. China can be a viable resource for low cost, mass-manufactured hard-goods, chemicals, fuels, transport, or technology products due to their low labor and material costs, plus minimal regulation.
Sadly, some new buyers will fall for the low prices and clever marketing. If enterprising Chinese businesspeople want to offer agricultural products in the US, they should always fully disclose that they’re products of China and properly disclose all information about their company, plus provide proof of any Chinese certifications. Just as in any country there are the honest and the dishonest. The fact is that it’s very well documented that there’s a lot of corruption in China. The number of investigations by the US government of Chinese companies are on-going. We certainly don’t want the wonders that soap nuts and saponin offer us to become tainted by a few unethical profiteers from anywhere.
The irony of it all:
Our #1 reason for using soap nuts and saponin is that they provide safe, healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives to toxic commercial detergents, cleaners and a plethora of unhealthy sulfates and surfactants. We’ve also economically aided thousands of local families and villagers throughout India and Nepal. Yet here we are with an opportunist proclaiming they will “conquer” this market.
We’ve provided ample proof demonstrating that “China Berry Seller” has been anything except honest and forthright from day one. We know the product is grown in a polluted environment, that we have been continually deceived, and our laws have been abused and violated – especially those that we rely upon to ensure the quality and safety of the products we use. We hope you will help prevent Chinese soap berries from infecting our markets – and your home.
Consumers must be diligent. We can state that we have never seen any seller(s) – ever – so consistently change their story and tactics.
Given the seller’s consistent – and persistent – track record of false claims, 180-degree turns, description changes, contradictions, phony pictures, and never-ending disingenuous attempts to peddle the cheap Chinese berries – we believe that essentially nothing can be believed or trusted without concrete, documented proof.
Ultimately, the Western market for soap berries shoulders an unfair risk of being tarnished. If there are incidents of contamination resulting in illnesses (like with the recent Chinese imported tainted doggie treats), ALL soap nuts will end up in question. And the seller of China-grown berries will simply disappear and go home with a pocketful of US cash.
This will cause unfair, unwarranted and undue harm to all the honest, reputable sellers of an amazing and wonderful natural product that can be positively life and generation altering for millions of users. The greatest harm will be to all those folks that are out there trying to spread the word, and run good, clean, healthy, eco conscious businesses – the right way.
Our advice: If you see the word China, move along. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” But in this case, it’s much worse. You may get something you and your family didn’t bargain for – and it’s not good.
So, just say, “NO!” to China-grown.
A STAFF MESSAGE:
We say “NO” to China-grown soap berries (or anything grown or raised in China) until the Chinese government gets serious about cleaning up their environment for the good of the people of China, and the rest of the world. As U.S. consumers we won’t be “conquered” with cheap goods and deceptive sales practices by any company. We expect our federal laws governing honest commerce and public safety to be followed, and will never tolerate any who disrespect us by violating or ignoring them. We at SoapNuts.Pro are dedicated to education and increased consumer awareness of benefits of soap nuts and saponin. We regret that some care only about lining their pocket. As the “China Berry Seller” learned when USDA agents knocked on his door, we are looking out for you.