Is Chinese Garlic a Threat to National Security?

Plus, an AI-generated recipe for garlic lovers' shrimp scampi


Joanna Andreasson/DALL-E4

In the June 2024 issue, we explore the ways that artificial intelligence is shaping our economy and culture. The stories and art are about AI—and occasionally by AI. (Throughout the issue, we have rendered all text generated by AI-powered tools in blue.) To read the rest of the issue, go here.

Is a staple ingredient in your kitchen secretly undermining American sovereignty? Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.) seems to believe so. He's asked Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to investigate whether garlic imported from China constitutes a national security threat—yes, really. This would potentially be the first step toward imposing more tariffs or limiting imports.

"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, not mincing words, wrote to Raimondo in December. Citing cooking blogs and YouTube videos, Scott argued that China allegedly grows garlic in unsanitary conditions, including using human feces as fertilizer.

"If our food is not safe to eat," he wrote, "we cannot expect our men and women in uniform to be equipped and able to do their jobs."

Notably, Scott did not provide any tangible evidence of Americans—in uniform or otherwise—being sickened by imported garlic. Rather than responding to a real threat to national security, the senator seems to be merely exploiting a loophole that allows economic protectionism.

The 1962 Trade Expansion Act empowers the executive branch to levy tariffs to protect American suppliers of goods deemed vital to national security. Former President Donald Trump stretched the intent of that law when he invoked it to impose import taxes on steel and aluminum. Doing so has seemingly opened the door to claims like Scott's, which rest on even more dubious definitions of what should be covered by the phrase "national security."

Imported garlic is already subject to high tariffs—and tariffs on garlic from China, the world's largest producer, were increased by the Trump administration. Even with those tariffs in place, American garlic is more expensive. A 30-pound carton of white garlic from China cost about $40 in January, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, while the same amount grown in California costs over $70. Adding more tariffs or restricting foreign garlic imports will further inflate prices for consumers and restaurants.

So what about Scott's claim that Chinese garlic is unsafe for consumption? While there is little hard evidence that China is using human waste to fertilize crops, a 2017 McGill University publication concluded that there's no reason to worry even if that is true. "Human waste is as effective a fertilizer as is animal waste," the Canadian college's Office for Science and Society explained in response to a question submitted by a member of the public. "Spreading human sewage on fields that grow crops doesn't sound appealing, but it is safer than you might think."

Giving politicians greater control over trade under the guise of protecting national security, on the other hand, might be a bit more dangerous than it seems.

Gemini Advanced Dinner Recipe

Reason asked Gemini Advanced to write a recipe with a lot of garlic and asked DALL-E to create images of the dish. All AI-generated text is shown in blue. Read more about what we asked for.

What we asked for: Garlic Lovers' Shrimp Scampi illustration

(Illustration: Joanna Andreasson/DALL-E4)

What we asked for in our second prompt: More garlic.

(Illustration: Joanna Andreasson/DALL-E4)

What DALL-E says it gave us: Here's an enhanced illustration of Garlic Lovers' Shrimp Scampi, now with an even more generous helping of garlic, for those who truly can't get enough.

Reason: Give me a recipe for dinner for two that uses a lot of garlic.

Gemini: Absolutely! Here's a delicious and garlicky recipe perfect for a cozy dinner:

Garlic Lovers' Shrimp Scampi

1 lb large shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces linguine or your favorite pasta

Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Prep the shrimp: While the pasta cooks, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Be careful not to burn it.

Add the wine and lemon: Pour in the white wine and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 1 minute, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Cook the shrimp: Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, or until pink and cooked through.

Finish the sauce: Stir in the red pepper flakes, parsley, and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble: Toss the cooked pasta with the shrimp scampi sauce.

Serve: Divide the pasta and shrimp between plates. Garnish with extra parsley if desired and enjoy immediately!


Fresh is best: Use fresh garlic and parsley for maximum flavor.

Adjust the spice: If you like it spicier, add more red pepper flakes.

Serve with bread: Garlic bread is a classic accompaniment to mop up the delicious sauce.

Let me know if you'd like any other recipe ideas!

More garlic.

Absolutely! Here's how to amp up the garlic factor in your Shrimp Scampi:

Double the garlic: The easiest way is to simply double the amount of minced garlic to 12 cloves.

Garlic infused oil: When you start the recipe, add several thinly sliced garlic cloves to the olive oil and cook gently until they just start to turn golden. Remove the slices before adding the minced garlic to the pan. This will infuse the oil with even more garlic flavor.

Roasted Garlic: Roast a head of garlic beforehand. Squeeze out the soft, caramelized cloves and add them to the sauce along with the butter for a mellower, sweeter garlic hit.

Garlic powder: In addition to fresh garlic, sprinkle in a small amount of garlic powder with the salt and pepper for a deeper background garlic flavor.

Let me know if you want to take the garlic obsession even further!

Is that much garlic a threat to national security?

Absolutely not! There's no way that, even with a ton of garlic, you'd be putting national security at risk. Garlic is a food, and while it might leave a strong impression on your breath, it poses no threat. In fact, a recent news story involved a Senator jokingly (or maybe not?) suggesting garlic imports were a national security risk. That idea was widely ridiculed. So go forth and enjoy your garlicky feast! The worst you might face is some serious breath mint needs.

GEMINI ADVANCED is a subscription-supported large language model developed by Google.