Christopher Ranch disputes accusations in Netflix show

Gilroy’s Christopher Ranch, America’s biggest garlic producer, disputes accusations that it conspired to fix garlic prices and sells garlic peeled by Chinese prisoners, allegations raised by competitors in a new Netflix documentary series investigating food scandals called “Rotten.”

The episode, called “Garlic Breath,” shows what it alleges is undercover video taken in Chinese prisons of workers peeling garlic – using their teeth in some cases, according to an undercover witness, to remove roots because the peeling had ruined the prisoners’ fingernails. The hidden camera video shows boxes marked with the Golden Lion brand, sold by Christopher.

Ken Christopher, the third-generation manager of the family-owned private company, this week denied the the documentary’s allegations. He said that Christopher, Gilroy’s biggest employer, is planning to file suit against Netflix asking it to stop showing the documentary and to issue a correction.

He said the company is overwhelmed by negative comments on social media as a result of the show. Christopher said his company has never sold garlic peeled by prisoners and 90 percent of the garlic it sells is from California. He said the company has no connection to the Golden Lion brand and that the video claiming to be filmed in prisons is a fake.

“The documentary is a hit piece on us,” said Christopher, whose family has grown, packed and marketed garlic in Gilroy since 1953. “We’re being dragged through the mud. I want to keep emphasizing, who we are is about California garlic. No Christopher Ranch product uses Chinese garlic. Having our integrity means so much to us.”

In the documentary, a U.S.-based garlic importer tells the filmmakers he sneaked a camera into a Chinese prison and observed prisoners peeling garlic, allowing companies to sell it at much lower prices than cloves peeled in the U.S. The documentary alleges that Christopher Ranch sells that garlic.

It also claims that Christopher has been working with a Harmoni Group, Inc., which is the only importer of overseas garlic that doesn’t have to pay tariffs on imported cloves.

Christopher said the company works with Harmoni because it doesn’t dump garlic in the U.S. market, meaning it doesn’t sell garlic for less than it costs to produce it, undercutting U.S. growers.

“Christopher Ranch, the nation’s largest family-owned garlic company, is proud of our commitment to our customers and community to be both ethical and transparent regarding our business operations,” Christopher wrote in a Jan. 8 Facebook post. “We find it unfortunate that the new Netflix docuseries ‘Rotten’ has chosen to produce a show that highlights our brand in such a negative light.”

The company grows 90 percent of the 90 million pounds of garlic that it sells annually in the U.S. in California, sourcing the rest from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and China,” he wrote.

“We source a limited amount of Chinese garlic from a US-based firm, Harmoni, and have found them to be a dependable supplier. We were aware of some allegations surrounding their labor practices last year, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigated and cleared them of any wrongdoing.”

According to the documentary, small garlic producers can’t survive if this large Chinese importer, Harmoni, is allowed to undercut prices.

“Currently, the wholesale price of garlic in China is $1 a kilo, and this has enabled Harmoni Spice, the only garlic importer that pays no duty, to undercut U.S. producers for the past 10 years,” said Stanley Crawford, a New Mexican farmer who asked the Department of Commerce to review Harmoni’s exemption from tariffs, in an article published by the Albuquerque Journal. “Anti-dumping duties, which can run as high as $4.71 a kilo, would serve to level the playing field for U.S. producers, bringing the price of imported garlic in line with U.S. wholesale prices.”

The commerce department reviews companies suggested by an organization called the Fresh Garlic Producers Association, of which Christopher Ranch is one of four members.

That organization annually withdraws its request for the regulatory agency to review Harmoni, according to the film, allowing Harmoni to exploit a loophole and avoid tariffs.

In June, the U.S. Department of Commerce threw out Crawford’s request to investigate Harmoni, saying that Crawford had taken money from a competing Chinese garlic company and destroyed his credibility as a source. The film documents a battle between Crawford and his attorney and another boutique New Mexican garlic producer who first signed on with Crawford and then took money from Harmoni. Those battles prevented the Commerce Department from taking action.

U.S. Customs investigated the allegations of prisoners being used for the imported Harmoni garlic and found it to be untrue, Christopher said.

The “Rotten” series is produced by Zero Point Zero, the company behind Anthony Bourdain’s television shows.
“Our food supply system is broken, corrupt, dirty, inhumane, and riddled with fraud. If you are not aware of this, you need to be,” wrote Paste Magazine in a review of the series, calling it “mandatory” viewing for people who buy food.

Christopher said the company is considering a lawsuit and is also thinking about no longer importing any garlic from China. The reason it does so now, he said, is because some customers who can’t afford California garlic prefer the cheaper Chinese product.

Those imports are never sold under the Christopher name, he said, and when the company does use garlic from other countries to bridge the gap between harvests, it clearly labels its origin.

Christopher Ranch, with more than 600 full time workers and another 400 seasonal ones, is Gilroy’s biggest employer. The company pays its agricultural workers above minimum wage, and company patriarch Don Christopher is noted for his philanthropy, which includes donating land and an endowment to fund the establishment of Christopher High School.

Ken Christopher said the company would never knowingly use prison labor for its products.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Not in a million years.”

14 COMMENTS

    • I do not understand why CR protects Harmoni saying “because they do not do dumping”. If they allow the department of commerce to do the review most likely they will impose a duty and level the field. Worst case scenario, Harmoni ends up to pay nothing (same as now!!) As it is now, the zero duty Harmoni gets is thanks to CR, so Harmoni have an obligation with CR. Let the Department of Ccommerce to decide. If CR gets in the middle is because CR have some businesses with them. They create a monopoly, so with cheap chinese garlic they destroy small peeling garlic factories that may compete with them domestically. Probably Spice World and Garlic Company should be mentioned as well as part of leaving Harmoni out of the reviews.

      Also, the link between garlic peeled by prison labor and CR is just the box shown on the video. Whoever is on the garlic business knows that “Golden King yellow box” is the peeled garlic from Harmoni sold by CR in the US. If CR did not know about how was peeled is another chapter.

      If CR 90% sells are California grown why bother about 10% resale of Chinese garlic where they probably make a small profits? looks like they have other intentions than “giving a cheap option to some of our customers”.

      I am part of the industry and unfortunately, the documentary does not mention all the chemicals used by the chinese to make the peeled garlic to last as long as it lasts. And I can tell because I was in China and saw it myself, do not need no documentary to tell me. So, if I know from a simple trip, i am simple sure, CR knows as well, and they keep selling it to US consumers.

  1. This is a smear campaign pure and simple. Christopher Ranch has fought Chinese dumping and unfair competition for decades and this should have been reported also. I have nothing to gain by this statement but know how lucky we are that the Christophers are our neighbors. Anyone that lives in Gilroy knows how much Don and the Christopher family has done for our community and for decades. Does anyone think such altruism above and beyond any other in our community could come from anyone exploiting those less fortunate when they do so much to help the same people? Few know about the support Mr & Mrs Christoper quietly provide to those struggling with illness and challenges life brings but that is who they are and what they do. Perhaps give them a thought next time you drive by Christopher High, the Christopher sports complex, pass a van donated to the school district, remember a meal decades ago at their restaurant when all profits went to kids. The Christophers are patriotic, generous, and honest. They do not deserve this and everyone in Gilroy should be outraged. Please boycott Netflix and buy more Gilroy garlic. This is a disgrace to everyone in Gilroy and IT IS NOT TRUE..

    • Mafia runs food import and export business. People just think its drugs. Nope. The American dream was designed to industrialize the nations so rich pricks could get more money than God and turn everyone into slaves. Industrialization is just another word for slavery. Period. This is why farmers aren’t making money and honest hard work is fading away. People can’t make it on honest hard work anymore cause of big business greed who have made they’re beds in the depths of hell and made they’re living off the worlds back. The God who made the plants animals garlic ect. is watching you bastards will pay.

  2. It should be obvious to anyone who grew up in the Gilroy area that they aren’t using very much Californian garlic. 40 years ago, semi trucks with double trailer loads of garlic were regularly pulling in to the garlic processors in the area. When was the last time you saw a garlic truck pulling into Gilroy? I recall seeing one this last year. That’s all. The rest is coming in via containers from China, I have no doubt.

  3. I’d be much more likely to back Christopher Ranch in this if they had come out loud and proud and dumped their Golden Lion brand. Its really sad that the conditions in which it is process was exposed and yet they claim its ok because U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was all hunky dory. Maybe it isn’t illegal but it is definitely unethical to continue to support and sell a brand manufactured in such a terrible way. That ethical lapse alone makes me think that the rest of the accusations about price fixing are valid. I’m going to miss being proud of the Christopher Ranch logo all over the country when I see it from now on.

  4. Industry turns us all into slaves for big business like this who make a fortune off the backs of slave laborers. Why are you people surprised? All industry has bad history. Its like people forgot about the coal miners and the thugs who would literally shoot them when they went on strike. Its like indentured servants and child labor never happened. Slavery abolished? NO just cleverly hidden and disguised from the public eye. People don’t give a shit. Keep taking welfare shopping at walmart and supporting big businessmen and we all dig our own graves.

  5. If Christopher Ranch just makes statements versus bringing in the proof, I now tend to believe the Netflix show that had shown proof of video. Stop arguing, and actually show proof! Simple. But I have not seen garlic hauled in by trucks from the farms in a long time. But I will openly listen and see proof of their land and farm of garlic. They showed farms in China, but nothing in California. The entrance to Christopher Ranch is not a garlic farm, but rather trees. I again ask, show me the proof and you should be fine.

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