Florida senator sounds the alarm on Chinese ‘sewage garlic’

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Sen. Rick Scott is asking federal regulators to crack down on imports of so-called “sewage garlic” from China.

In a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Scott invoked 1962’s Trade Expansion Act, which authorizes the agency to “initiate an investigation to ascertain the effect of specific imports on the national security of the United States.”

Scott said he has concerns with trade enforcement, citing over half a billion dollars in unpaid antidumping fees tied to the garlic industry. But his chief concern, according to the letter, is alleged unsanitary growing conditions in “Communist China.”

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“But beyond these trade enforcement concerns, there is a severe public health
concern over the quality and safety of garlic grown in foreign countries—most notably,
garlic grown in Communist China,” Scott wrote in the letter.

Scott pointed to data from the United Nations indicating China represents the majority of the market share and is the top importer of garlic to the U.S.

Scott alleged that China’s garlic growth practices include “fertilizing garlic with human feces and forms of sewage, growing garlic in sewage, bleaching garlic to make it appear whiter and cleaner.” The senator claimed such practices “are well-documented in the public domain,” citing sources “from cooking blogs and home magazines to YouTube videos and documentaries.”

It is unclear if Scott’s claims pass the sniff test. For over a decade, stories of toxic garlic streaming into U.S. ports have circulated on social media, but scientific data on the issue is scarce.

A 2009 report compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that, from 2007-2008, “several of the largest food import categories,” including garlic, “had only a handful of FDA refusals.” “Filthy and unsafe additives,” like Scott described, accounted for 20% of violations.

According to a 2017 report from the McGill University Office for Science and Society, the risks of using fertilizers containing waste are likely overblown and the practice of recycling sewage into fertilizer is common across the world.

“It is possible that sewage is used as fertilizer, as it is in many parts of the world, although there is no evidence that garlic in China is fertilized in this fashion,” the report stated.

The skin on garlic bulbs “is effective at preventing penetration into the bulb,” according to McGill researchers. In the report, they reiterated the importance of washing produce, regardless of its country of origin.

The practice is not completely without risk, but it appears Chinese farmers and residents are most affected. A 2015 study of Chinese agricultural villages conducted by U.S. and Chinese researchers found a possible link between the use of “night soil” and Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms.

“Commerce, in its investigation, must consider the impacts of foreign competition on the domestic industry and the effects on the displacement of domestic products, including: unemployment, decreases in public revenue, loss of investment, and other relevant factors causing or that will cause a weakening in the national economy,” Scott wrote in his letter.

Scott also plans to introduce the “SEWAGE GARLIC Imports Act” and the “SEWAGE GARLIC Imports Tariff Act” in the coming days “to address the growth practices and safety of garlic produced in China for human consumption.”

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