‘Product of The USA’ Mushrooms Actually Made in China
Just when you thought you were supporting American farms, it turns out “Product of the USA” mushrooms are devastating American mushroom producers.
American mushroom producers are in crisis mode thanks to the intrusion of Chinese mushrooms sold under ‘Product of the USA’ labels, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Gary Schroeder has been in the business of growing and selling specialty mushrooms for 40 years. Schroeder’s Oakshire Mushroom Farms had annuals sales of $37 million in 2017 and employed 65 people last year, but now Schroeder told the Inquirer he is fighting to keep his company alive.
Schroeder cut his workforce to 16 and filed for bankruptcy in early January and is saddled with $10 million in debt.
Schroeder told the Inquirer that some of the business downturn was due to losing Costco as a buyer. Costco switched to sourcing mushrooms from Canada thanks to a strengthening US dollar that made Canadian mushrooms cheaper. However, Schroeder and other mushroom producers said shitake mushrooms that originate from China are dealing the heaviest blow to American mushroom growers.
Shiitake mushrooms are a chewier and more flavorful mushroom that fetches a higher price than regular white button, brown crimini, or portobello mushrooms. According to the Inquirer, they retail for about $10 a pound and in 2018 there was a total of $45 million in shiitake wholesale sales industry-wide.
Shiitakes are grown on logs and Schroeder’s farm is one of a small handful of American farms that produce the logs. But over a nine-month period last year, Chinese log manufacturers swept into the market, undercut prices and devastated Schroeder’s business, wiping out 85 percent of his log sales.
“There was just no chance to adjust,” Schroeder told the Inquirer. “We didn’t see it coming.”
Even more unnerving for Schroeder and his fellow growers is the fact that the Chinese shiitake mushrooms are being sold with “Product of the USA” labels.
The Chinese shiitake mushroom logs are made in China of Chinese sawdust and grain, inoculated with Chinese spawn and loaded onto ships for six to eight-week trans-Pacific voyages. The mushrooms are technically harvested in the U.S. when American mushroom companies harvest the mushrooms from the Chinese logs a week to ten days after they arrive in the U.S.
Because the mushrooms are considered to be harvested in the U.S. they can be sold at grocery stores with the “Product of USA” label.
Another American mushroom producer, Lou Caputo, told the Inquirer that his company Kennet Square Specialty Mushrooms were also hit hard by the Chinese log manufacturers.
“They’ve managed to cripple me,” Caputo said. “I was making 85,000 logs a week and selling them at $3.95 apiece. Now I’m down to making 25,000 and keeping them to grow strictly for myself.”
Caputo also calls the Chinese mushrooms inferior.
Not So Local Produce
Apparently, the practice of seeding a crop in one location and maturing in another is happening with other agricultural products as well.
Eric Stein, CEO of Barisoft Consulting Group, which specializes in indoor farming, told the Inquirer that seeding in one place and maturing in another is a growing trend.
“It’s become a trend in the industry. It’s not just mushrooms. You seed in one location and you ship it to another place to do maturing,” said Stein. “This is a whole new thing.”
“If you are finishing them within 400 miles of where they’re sold, you can claim they’re locally grown,” Stein said. “Under USDA guidelines you can say its local.”
For those wanting to eat “local” to reduce carbon impact the trend is disheartening. It means your “locally grown” produce could have traveled thousands of miles as a seed or seedling before maturing for sale.