Growing US Food Imports

Americans are importing more of their food than ever before. This map shows leading imports and countries that supply each item.

How Much Is Imported?

The charts below show the percentage of total US consumption for each food item imported from all countries.

Oranges. Asparagus. Fish. Apples. Carrots. Every day, Americans import more of what they eat. In fact, so much food is pouring into the country by sea, air, and land that the federal government says it is overwhelmed. It can't inspect it all. And that is raising serious safety questions.

Americans once fed themselves - with a few exceptions like Greek olives and cheese from Holland. But free trade has opened America's doors. Today, one-third of all fresh fruit and 12 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States come from other countries. Even staples, like tomatoes (31.4 percent), come from abroad. And the numbers keep growing. Imports are up more than 50 percent since 1990.

All this has begun to worry Congress and the White House. A congressional study this week reported that the Food and Drug Administration was able to inspect only 1.7 percent of all imported foods in 1997. That was down from 8 percent in 1992.

In recent years, there have been highly publicized reports of illness related to tainted imports, including Guatemalan raspberries, Mexican cantaloupes, and alfalfa sprouts from the Netherlands.

Hearings begin today in Congress on the issue. The hearings could boost efforts to strengthen the FDA's authority. One goal is to encourage other countries to adopt practices for producing fruit, vegetables, fish, and processed foods similar to those in the US.

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