Imports are taking up a great share of US produce consumption

For some people, it seems like the fresh fruits and vegetables they're buying are more commonly featuring a sticker with a country of origin other than the United States. And these people are right. While farmers' markets have exploded in popularity, along with the farm-to-table social movement promoting locally grown foods, data show foreign imports are increasingly taking up a greater share of the domestic food market.

In 2017, over 55 percent of all the fresh fruit available to US consumers was imported. And while just under a third of the total supply of fresh vegetables in the US came from overseas. That proportion had doubled since 2002, according to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Agricultural experts, farmers and public officials are largely split on two sides of the debate: the general consensus agrees that a greater supply and wider variety of fruits and vegetables is a benefit to overall public health. But worries persist that cheaper, imported fruits and vegetables may make it too difficult for New York farmers, already dealing with rising labor and operating costs, to compete in the domestic market.

Consumers in New York have greater access to fruits like mangoes, papayas, pineapples and limes than in decades past. And the per-person availability of vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, squash, garlic and onions has increased significantly over the last four decades, according to ERS data.

No alarms will sound when we see bananas from a foreign country -99.9% of bananas in the US are imported- because climate conditions prevent production on a large scale in the US, anyway. And imports make available year-round fruits and vegetables that at one time were available only in season. But New York farmers have expressed concern as crops they produce come in from overseas at a cheaper price.

The increase in imports has been driven by the cheaper labor and production costs in countries like Mexico, and consumer demand for a robust, year-round selection of produce that people have become accustomed to having access to.

However, while evidence suggests that the thousands of miles fruits and vegetables travel before reaching your kitchen have a minimal impact on the actual taste and quality of the produce, the harmful climate change-related impact of transportation can be significant.


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