Imported Produce Bad for Us?

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


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

I'm not American. :-)

Merelen Knitter
Merelen Knitter7 years ago

If I needed more reasons to buy local, you just gave me a bunch!

Abby M.
Abby M7 years ago

We go to the local farmers' market every week- fresher, mostly organic, and easy. Of course, there is stuff that we can't grow here, so we will buy some stuff from supermarkets.
Honestly, I doubt whether the FDA supervises half as much as they say they do- imported, locally grown, meat, dairy, egg, anything.

Lori A.
Lori A7 years ago

Good info, thanks for sharing!

Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago

I try to buy locally-grown produce. On the west coast of BC (Canada) we are so fortunate to have many local farms. We can get locally-grown produce all year round; though we are limited during the winter months.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Eliza D.
Past Member 7 years ago

I try to buy local or Australian made goods (I'm in Sydney) where ever possible. We have new labelling too that makes it easier to see if fresh foods are Australian or not. I like to support our farmers and manufactures so they stay in business and keep employing workers.
I think buying imports was fashionable in the 80's and 90's, but there is a trend more recently to support Australian made for Australian jobs.

r4 sdhc

Laura S.
Laura S8 years ago

Catherine Turley - I'd just like to point out that those shipments would have to be 1500 tons each for that to assumption to work. 15 HUNDRED TONS. Each. So, if you had a shipment of, say, apples in 3 pound bags (a common item in grocery stores), a 1500 ton shipment would contain a million bags of apples.
I just wanted to put those numbers into some perspective

Elizabeth A.
Elizabeth A8 years ago

My biggest concern -- right now -- is buying organic, pesticide-free produce. I would LOVE to buy local for everything as I try super hard to do what's best for the environment, but the farmer's market in my area doesn't provide any pesticide-free produce -- I've asked as I understand many can't boast the "organic" label due to the costs but are still pesticide-free.

I just don't feel right using pesticide-laden produce, even if it is local. Anyone else run into this problem? I feel ridiculously guilty buying items from across the world, but I'm just not willing to compromise my health. . .

Jonathan B.
Jonathan B8 years ago

You can call it rational consumerism, or smart shopping, or any other euphemism you like, but it is still economic and personal suicide.

Walmartism has gripped the thought of consumers, due to the hard economic times, but localism eating and shopping is not just a good way to keep your city and state government alive, but your local economy as well.

By keeping the money flow local, you protect both the local economy and the local state and city tax base, but it also means that the farmer's market where you buy organic goods will sell you products that are not exposed to foreign germs and soil microbes, and are not costing a fortune to transport.

You get what you pay for, and cheap food can be toxic food. If you do not want to spend so much on your fresh fruits and vegetables, then consider the cost you will pay in health bills, and the impact you will feel from a bad economy and fewer government services.