Americans are consuming more imported fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen and canned produce, and fruit juice than ever before. An examination of U.S. consumption of produce that is commonly eaten as well as grown in America found that over the past 15 years Americans’ consumption of imported fresh fruits and vegetables doubled, but border inspection has not kept pace with rising imports, and less than one percent of the imported produce is inspected by the federal government.
Food & Water Watch studied fifty common fruit and vegetable products like fresh apples, frozen broccoli, fresh tomatoes, orange juice and frozen potatoes. They found that:
- Imports made up one out of ten fresh fruits and one out of nine fresh vegetables Americans ate in 1993 (10.1 and 11.7 percent, respectively) but by 2007 the import consumption share doubled to more than one out of five fresh fruits and fresh vegetables (22.3 percent of fresh fruit and 23.9 percent of fresh vegetables).
- The share of imported processed (canned or frozen) produce tripled, from 5.2 percent of frozen packages or cans in 1993 to 15.9 percent in 2007.
- The share of imported fruit juice (orange, apple and grape) grew by 61 percent, from about a third of American consumption (30.8 percent) in 1993 to about half of consumption (49.5 percent) in 2007.
- On average, each American consumed 20 pounds of imported fresh fruit, 31 pounds of imported fresh vegetables and 24 pounds of imported processed produce and drank three gallons of imported juice in 2007.
- Imports of fresh fruits (except bananas), fresh vegetables and processed produce essentially tripled, rising from 10 billion pounds in 1990 to 30 billion pounds in 2007.
- Imported produce was more than three times more likely to contain the illness-causing bacteria Salmonella and Shigella than domestic produce, according to the latest FDA survey of imported and domestic produce.
- Imported fruit is four times more likely to have illegal levels of pesticides and imported vegetables are twice as likely to have illegal levels of pesticide residues as domestic fruits and vegetables.
- Less than one percent of imported fresh produce shipments were inspected at the border in recent years.
- The hidden dangers on imported fruits and vegetables can enter U.S. supermarkets because the FDA inspects only the tiniest fraction of imported produce.
In 2007, the FDA performed only 11,000 border inspections on 33 billion pounds of imported fresh produce. Only 3 percent of FDA’s food safety funding and only 4 percent of its food safety manpower were used to monitor domestic and imported fresh produce. Other findings include:
International trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and a raft of regional and bilateral trade pacts have facilitated the surging imports of fruit and vegetable products. Although imported produce once consisted primarily of tropical fruits and fresh vegetables during the winter months, now Americans are eating more imported fruits and vegetables year round. Crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and melons, which can be grown in the United States, are being replaced on store shelves by imports � during the U.S. growing season.
While imports have skyrocketed, U.S. fruit and vegetable product exports have seen minimal growth over the past fifteen years. In 2007 the United States imported more fresh fruit than it exported for the first time; processed produce imports exceeded exports for the first time in 2002; and the gap between imports and exports of fresh vegetables and fruit juice has steadily grown for the past fifteen years.
The new requirement of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, which went into effect in October 2008, will help consumers choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown in America. But exemptions in the COOL regulations exclude large amounts of produce items from labeling requirements.
The federal government must act swiftly to protect consumers from unsafe imported produce and stop expanding a failed trade model. The FDA needs to drastically improve and increase its inspection of imported produce above the appallingly low level of one out of every 134 shipments of imported produce. Consumers need all imported produce–whether fresh, canned, frozen or otherwise processed–to be labeled with its country of origin. Finally, it is time for Congress to enact a moratorium on new free trade pacts that threaten consumers and undermine American farmers!
Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.