Snoping Snopes

It recently has come to my attention that an article I wrote about imported garlic was snoped. I guess that means that it has gotten enough readership to draw some attention, which is good, but after reading the snope I feel the need to defend my original article in this blog post. I am disappointed to say I tried to post this in comments on their site and was blocked which reduces my respect for snope, a group I have always considered a reputable source for information.

To Snope: I appreciate you calling attention to an error in my blog post about Chinese garlic. I should have clarified that removal of all root mass does not mean garlic is from China, but it does suggest that the product is IMPORTED garlic, and the majority of garlic imported into this country is from China. I have changed the content of my article to clarify this.

In your snope you state that the garlic shown in the Christopher Ranch marketing photo has all of the roots removed, proving your point that American garlic can have the roots removed also. I contacted Christopher Ranch about the photo,and they told me they did not make the photo. It was made by ANUK ( a video newsletter for the produce industry) and may in fact be Chinese garlic.

In another part of your snope, you quote my conversation with the representative from Christopher Ranch saying that American growers don’t pay to completely remove ALL of the root material from garlic. You then show several Farmer’s Market examples of garlic with the “roots removed”. However when I look at some of your photos, I see garlic with root material still on some of the heads. Some roots are just clipped very short, not completely reamed of all root material as in my example of typical Chinese garlic (the bottom of the head will be completely white when all root material is removed). Large American commercial growers will snip the roots close to the base, but will not ream them out as shown in my photograph.  I grow and prepare my own garlic, including some for sale at the Farmer’s market, and can tell you that to get the bottom to look like my imported garlic example is very time consuming. But yes, you are correct, a few small Farmer’s Market growers may on occasion process garlic that way.

With regard to your comment on theories as to why the root mass is removed from imported garlic, I feel well supported in my statement that it is to remove all soil from the product. While the US regulations are hard to find on the internet, they do require imported garlic from China to meet phytosanitary standards certified by the exporting country. I could not find the US or China phytosanitary standards for garlic online but I could find them for Canada and they clearly state that no soil can be present on garlic imported to Canada from any country except the US. The only way to completely remove all soil from a garlic head is to completely remove the entire root mass from the head as shown in my example.

With regard to the contamination of Chinese garlic issue (I will not address the picture of pesticide spraying as that is not from my blog post) I call your attention to an extensive report from the USDA addressing food safety issues associated with all imported foods from China including information on contamination of garlic.

I further call your attention to the fact that the majority of garlic imported into the US is imported from China, and the US garlic industry no longer exports much product due to Chinese competition.

From the above facts one can then infer the following: Canada, and possibly other countries will not accept any garlic with root mass containing soil for import. If a grower is planning to export garlic, they will need to meet the strictest standards of countries accepting imports and this means removing all soil from the bulb of their products. The only way to remove all soil from garlic is to completely remove all root mass from the bottom of the bulb, leaving the bottom white and denuded of all stubble. This process is very labor intensive and thus expensive and not required for sale in the country of origin. Thus heads of garlic with every bit of root stubble removed are highly likely to be imported garlic from China.

I appreciate the work you do in promoting truth and accountability on the internet. As a Registered Dietitian, I try to fully research any nutrition or food related topic I write about. In this case, the rather nuanced nature of a complicated topic requires a high level of research and even then may be open to interpretation. I do stand behind my original thesis which is this:

When shopping for garlic, if one sees heads of garlic displayed in which every head of garlic has all stubble and root material removed from the bottom (essentially a white bottom) that garlic is probably imported. And most imported garlic is from China. Therefore, there is a high probability that garlic is from China. And garlic from China has a high probability of being contaminated with pesticide and/or bacterial residues.

I agree fully with your final comment that the best way to know the source of your garlic is to buy it directly from a farmer, through a Farmer’s Market or CSA, or to grow your own.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any content in the article without the written persmission of the author is prohibited.

My Garlic culture conundrum (or why garlic is like a canary)

It has recently come to my attention that this article was snoped. Please see this link for my response to the snope article including references. While I made a few minor changes, I stand behind the content in this article as it is currently published including the information on how to look for imported (mostly Chinese) garlic when shopping. Although I support what snope is doing, and use them as a reference for truth in the internet myself, in this case I think they took a nuanced complicated subject and tried to make it simple and came up with the wrong conclusion.

photo 1, garlic wm.It started as a simple enough blog post.  This winter I grew garlic successfully for the first time in many years, but in the process of harvesting it I made some mistakes and thought I would share them with my readers.  I had a few pictures, thought it would be fun, something light and simple. I started the blog post, then figured I would look up a bit on the web about garlic culture in California, that type of thing. I walked away from my computer 3 hours later shaking my head and steaming about the degradation and outsourcing of our food supply. Thus my conundrum. Should I let it go, stay with the simple fun blog post, or should I go down the rabbit hole in this post, covering at least a bit of what I gleaned? That is my garlic culture conundrum. Should I tell you why garlic is like a canary  in a coal mine when it comes to the safety and security of our food supply? Well, if you know me by now, you know what decision I made….

Garlic is one of the most common ingredients in a traditional Mediterranean diet. It is an essential component of sauces such as pesto (Italy)  skordalia (Greece), aioli (Southern France), and alioli (Spain), and of course garlic is used liberally in a variety of recipes as a flavoring for meat, fish, poultry, vegetables. legumes, rice, pasta and casserole dishes. Besides olive oil, there is no more ubiquitous ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Throughout history, garlic has played an important culinary and medicinal role in Mediterranean culture.

California has it’s own special garlic culture. The world-famous Gilroy Garlic Festival is held this month on the coast of California, however in truth, most of California’s Garlic is now grown in the Central Valley where land is less expensive and there have been less problems with fungal disease. White rot, a fungal disease that renders soil unusable for garlic production, has been a challenge faced by California growers but much of California’s garlic culture is now threatened by economic forces as well.

Less than 15 years ago, California produced almost all of the garlic sold in the United States.   Now, China produces more than half of the garlic sold in the United States. In the late 90s China began flooding the market with inexpensive garlic, putting California growers out of business. Questions have been raised about the contamination of Chinese garlic with lead, sulfites and other unsafe compounds, as the food safety regulations in China are known to be lax.  Land in California is expensive, and California has some of the most stringent pesticide and food safety regulations in the world, so growing garlic in California is more expensive than growing garlic in China. California farmers just could not compete and in the last decade the amount of California land devoted to growing garlic has been cut in half.

The American consumer has more than doubled their intake of garlic over the same period of time. California garlic has been shown to have a higher sugar content (Brix) than Chinese garlic which is a factor associated with improved taste. I wonder if many consumers even know what good quality garlic is supposed to taste like.

Garlic powder and dehydrated garlic are another significant area of concern as over 75% of the garlic Americans eat is in this processed form. The majority of our garlic powder comes from China. The rapid expansion in our dependence on foreign foodstuffs seems to have left the FDA in the lurch and they are rushing to catch up by expanding their programs for inspection of imported foods. One of the primary reasons for their increased focus on imported foods is their recognition of pesticide and bacterial contamination of foods grown in China in general and heavy metal contamination of Chinese garlic powder in particular. Look on the shelves of your pantry. How much of your packaged food contains garlic, garlic powder or dehydrated garlic? Again, most of this garlic is from China. Even “organic” garlic is often from China, but it appears their organic certification methods are also questionable. Unfortunately, as we are all well aware, the FDA is one of those “big federal programs” slated for budget cuts whenever deficit reduction talks get going. So if you think the FDA is protecting your health in this area, even they admit they are not adequately staffed to do so at this time.

Have you noticed that over the past few years while the quality of garlic in the stores has been especially poor the prices have been very high? I did, which is why I went back to growing my own garlic again. In 2009 a drop in the world supply of garlic, increased demand for garlic in China as an herbal remedy to protect against flu and speculation in garlic by Chinese investors lead to a tripling of the wholesale price for garlic. But there were only half as many California growers to make up the gap. So now we were left with high prices AND poor quality.

What crop will it be the next time?  As more and more of our food production is outsourced to China, Mexico, Chile (and the next new frontier is Africa) due to our demand for cheaper food, regardless of the quality and safety, California farms are closing down and going out of business. California at one time was the primary source of the fruit consumed in America. Now more than half of our fruit is imported. If more and more farms close down, and we can no longer feed our country, what security will we have? We have already seen garlic fall prey to the whims of one country and the shrewd speculations of a few investors.  What will be next? And what will happen as the price of fuel continues to rise and we are dependent upon shipping our food all over the world because we have lost our local productive farms? And let’s not even get into the discussion about the carbon footprint of all of this.

Where is the garlic you eat grown? If you live in the US, hopefully it is grown locally or in California, not shipped all the way from China. One way to tell if your garlic is imported or is US grown is by the roots. American garlic usually has some of the roots left on the bottom, though they may be clipped very close to the base. Due to the agricultural import regulations of many countries exporters of garlic remove all soil (which requires removing every bit of root mass) prior to export. (here are Canada’s regulations for all imported garlic except that from the US) Here is an example of imported garlic. Notice that the root area is actually indented as the roots are carved away completely. Every head will be like this and this is not the same as a few head with roots cut away and some clipped close.


chinese-garlic watermarkedImported garlic: bleached white, with all root mass and dirt carved away from the bottom

Here is an example of California grown garlic with the bits of root still attached to most of the heads:California garlic watermarked

California grown garlic, with a more natural color, and root mass still visible on the bottom of most of the heads.

Unfortunately it appears you cannot trust all of the stores to be honest about where the garlic comes from. The garlic shown below was being sold at Sunflower “Farmer’s Market”  in Roseville, CA.  I have been advised by the consumer affairs department at Christopher Ranch garlic, the largest garlic company in the United States, that there are NO commerical American growers that pay the extra expense to have the roots completely removed from all of their garlic as it is not legally required for American grown products. Don’t you just love the little USA sign next to this garlic that has been processed in the way that only imported garlic is processed?

Garlic processed in a manner associated with imported garlic only (all root material removed from every head), but marked as “Product of the USA” . Photo taken at Sunflower Market in Roseville, California.

I wonder if there are other fruits and vegetables imported from China, Mexico or whatever, that are also mislabeled. With garlic one can see the difference, but what about green beans, zucchini, peppers? I did email the USDA regarding my finding at Sunflower, but I got no response, so I am curious as to whether anyone actually enforces the Country of Origin labeling laws. If you are paying extra for American or California Grown produce, it seems it is not clear that you are always getting what you are paying for. This is yet another reason to buy from a local farm, CSA or a real “farmer’s market”.

Well. now that I have gotten THAT off of my chest, I would like to get back to the subject at hand, which was originally my garlic culture successes and blunders. However, I have exceeded by far the recommended length for one blog post. Rather than overwhelm you with so much to think about at one time, today I will let you ponder all the reasons why you really should find a source of local garlic, or better yet grow your own. In a few days check here again for my next blog post about my tips on growing garlic.

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.