Fact Check: China Is NOT Putting California Garlic Growers Out Of Business

Fact Check

  • by: Alexis Tereszcuk

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: China Is NOT Putting California Garlic Growers Out Of Business Stinky Numbers

Is China putting California garlic growers out of business? No, that's not true. The amount of garlic the United States imports from China has gone down for the past four years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The claim appeared as a post (archived here) where it was published on Facebook on May 5, 2020 under the title "Know Your Garlic." It opened:

China is putting California garlic growers out of business, and YOU can stop it. Less than ten years ago, all of our garlic was grown in this country, primarily in CA. Now less than 40% is grown here and most of it (60%) is coming from China.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Jul 8 01:49:50 2020 UTC)

The post continued:

You can tell the difference by looking at the bottom. If the roots are all removed, leaving a concave, clean spot, it is Chinese. This is required by the Ag Dept. to prevent soilborne plant diseases from entering our country. If the roots are still there, as shown below, it is California garlic. The Garlic Growers Assoc. says not one single US grower cleans out the root end.
Is there a difference in quality? Yes, CA garlic routinely scores a higher BRIX scale rating (sugar content) than Chinese and Chinese garlic is noted by chefs for its metallic bitterness.
Let's say no to Chinese garlic.
Will you please share this post on your timeline?China is not putting California garlic growers out of business.

But China is not putting California garlic growers out of business.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, the United States imports of Chinese garlic have gone down in the past four years as you can see in the graph below.

Dried garlic imports from China for the past four years:

22,664,000 pounds in 2019

50,863,000 pounds in 2018

134,547,000 pounds in 2017

165,730,000 pounds in 2016

Fresh or chilled garlic imports from China for the past four years

134,772,000 pounds in 2019

142,985,000 pounds in 2018

109,151,000 pounds in 2017

120,460,000 pounds in 2016

The combined total imported from China for the past four years:

157,436,000 pounds in 2019

193,848,000 pounds in 2018

243,698,000 pounds in 2017

286,190,000 pounds in 2016

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 8.35.01 PM.png

Garlic production in the United States also increased significantly in the last four years, another United States Department of Agriculture chart shows. (Note: CWT is is a hundredweight and is equal to 100 pounds in the United States. There was a significant rain storm that affected California garlic crops in 2019.

Garlic production for the past four years in the United States:

400,185,000 pounds in 2019

500,232,500 pounds in 2018

500,115,000 pounds in 2017

400,515,000 pounds in 2016

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 8.34.44 PM.png

Using the numbers from above, the percentage of China's imports of garlic in the US have dropped significantly in the past four years, from 41.6% in 2016 to 32.7% in 2017, then to about 28% in both 2018 and 2019.

In an article from Reuters in 2019, California garlic growers celebrated the trade war with China waged by President Trump.

Sales of California-grown garlic are now increasing after decades of losing ground to cheaper Chinese imports. Sales are poised to get even better as Chinese garlic faces even higher tariffs, with no end to the trade war in sight.

"In a perfect world, we'd love to see the tariffs stay on forever," said Ken Christopher, executive vice president of family owned Christopher Ranch, the largest of three remaining commercial garlic producers in the United States."

An 11-year-old blog post by Christopher Ranch is the source behind the claims in the viral meme, including the details that Chinese garlic has the roots cut off.

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 10.43.27 PM.png

Cheaper Chinese garlic has been wreaking havoc on the domestic garlic market for several years, cheating consumers and customers with a lower-quality product, and threatening the livelihood of domestic, local growers.
Although California-grown garlic is proven to be a more flavorful, fresher and safer product, Chinese garlic is produced and exported to the U.S. in such mass quantities that it can be sold at a considerably lower price. Christopher Ranch, on the other hand, faces higher costs to grow quality, safe garlic, including equitable wages to farmers and workers; maintaining an exclusive heirloom seed program; following an extensive food safety program; sustainable farming practices; cost of land and inputs, etc.
Additionally, because many aren't aware various garlic varieties exist (particularly Chinese, Mexican and Argentine, which offer significant flavor, freshness, safety, healthy, sustainability discrepancies), they take whatever they get, assuming it's the same. And thus, 160 million pounds of Chinese garlic was exported into the U.S. in 2008 - more than all domestic producers combined."

According to the USDA garlic from China, among other bulb produce and other countries around the world, must have the tops/roots removed:

Bulb--A mass of overlapping membranous or fleshy leaves on a short stem base enclosing one or more buds that may develop under suitable conditions into new plants and constituting the resting stage of many plants, such as the onion. NOTE ON ALLIUMS: In the genus Allium, the bulbs may range from large, as in the onion, to poorly developed, as in the leek. From countries outside of North and South America and their adjacent islands (the Western Hemisphere), only the bulbs of alliums without their tops are admissible. However, the entire leek plant is admissible from Belgium and the Netherlands. The above ground portions of Allium spp. are inadmissible because of rusts and pests like the leek moth. Thus, onions, garlic, leeks, and other onion relatives (Allium spp.) are admissible from countries outside the Western Hemisphere only if the above ground portion of the plant is removed."

Ken Christopher of Christopher Ranch confirmed to Lead Stories that the garlic business in California has seen a significant increase in the past years after the Chinese growers flooded the market with cheap garlic in the 90s.

He explained the the Chinese garlic producers flooded the market in the 1990s. "

We learned how to adapt. We learned how to get sophisticated very quickly. We are now going to DC and learning how to lobby congress. We started to see a gradual decline and a gradual expansion of California's garlic. We are getting better at identifying illegal dumping. You'll always see it here but the days of garlic flooding in are numbered subject to the grower.

Articles that contain the claim about American garlic having roots and Chinese garlic cutting off the roots often cite raw food enthusiast David Wolfe as the source. Snopes.com reported on the Chinese garlic claim making the rounds in 2015 and as far back as 2012.

The coronavirus outbreak had an initial effect on the garlic industry when the supply chain from China was temporarily broken and demand from restuarants plummeted as they were forced to shut down. However, the business bounced back with home cooks dramatically increasing their purchases via grocers.

Christopher told the Mercury News on May 20, 2020, that the company typically sold 500,000 pounds of garlic per week and that skyrocketed to 800,000 pounds a week to grocers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He confirmed that number to Lead Stories.

Christopher said "close to half of the garlic consumed in California is grown in-state by three major farms including Christopher Ranch."

The USDA numbers from 2012 would also not match up to the claim that the United States imported 60% of its garlic from China.

The total amount of garlic imported in the United States in 2012 was 246,390,000 pounds.

The total amount of garlic produced in the United States in 2012 was 431,900,000 pounds.

The amount of garlic imported from China that year was only 36%.


  • 2020-07-10T17:55:39Z 2020-07-10T17:55:39Z
    Adding Christopher quotes

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  Alexis Tereszcuk

Alexis Tereszcuk is a writer and fact checker at Lead Stories and an award-winning journalist who spent over a decade breaking hard news and celebrity scoop with RadarOnline and Us Weekly.

As the Entertainment Editor, she investigated Hollywood stories and conducted interviews with A-list celebrities and reality stars.  

Alexis’ crime reporting earned her spots as a contributor on the Nancy Grace show, CNN, Fox News and Entertainment Tonight, among others.

Read more about or contact Alexis Tereszcuk

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