Food & Water Watch: “Growing Imports Harming U S Farmers”

Gary Cooper General

Growing Imports Harm Florida’s Fruit and Vegetable Farmers
Report Documents Rising Consumption of Imports Under Free Trade Pacts

Washington, DC – (Food & Water Watch) Imported fruit and vegetable products are making up a greater share of the American diet since a raft of free trade agreements went into effect in the mid-1990s, taking market share away from American farmers – especially Florida’s fruit and vegetable farmers, according to a new report released today by consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

The report, The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy: Produce Imports Overwhelm American Farmers and Consumers, found that between 1993 and 2007, the import share of fresh fruit and vegetable consumption doubled, the import share of canned and frozen produce tripled and the import share of fruit juice rose by almost two-thirds. The study examined fifteen years of export, import, consumption and cultivation data for 50 commonly eaten and cultivated fruit and vegetable products and crops. Over the past decade, the cultivated acres that produced these 50 products fell by 733,100 acres nationally (or 11.1 percent).

“America’s relentless pursuit of free trade deals has put the interests of companies that invest overseas ahead of fruit and vegetable farmers here at home,” stated Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Surging imports are replacing Florida’s fruits and vegetables on supermarket shelves and helping to drive farm families out of business.”

In Florida, the bearing acreage of tangerines and tangelos declined by half as imports grew by more than six-fold. Florida orange groves declined by 22 percent between 1998 and 2007 as imports of fresh oranges increased by a third and orange juice imports increased ten-fold between 1993 and 2007. Tomato, bell pepper, grapefruit and watermelon acreage declined as well (see table).

“Florida farmers were promised that free trade would bring significant export opportunities, but instead modest export growth has been overshadowed by a domestic market swamped by imports that undercut domestic producers,” said Hauter.

The free trade deals like NAFTA, the WTO and other regional and bilateral commercial pacts facilitated imports that have overwhelmed U.S. food safety import inspectors. The FDA inspects less than one percent of imported produce shipments, according to the Government Accountability Office. When tainted imports enter the U.S. market, American consumers shy away from all the affected products, further harming domestic farmers. Hurting Florida especially badly, American tomato farmers lost an estimated $200 million from the 2008 Salmonella outbreak traced to imported tomatoes and peppers from Mexico.

Other findings include:

• Between 1993 and 2007, the volume of fresh fruit exports grew only by 4 percent but the volume of imports increased by 170 percent. Over the same period, fresh vegetable exports increased by 14 percent but imports increased by 148 percent. Processed produce exports nearly doubled (rising by 96 percent) but imports more than tripled (growing by 229 percent).

• On average, each American consumed 31 pounds of imported fresh vegetables, 20 pounds of imported fresh fruit, 24 pounds of imported processed produce and 3 gallons of imported fruit juice in 2007.

• Imports are increasingly entering during the domestic fruit and vegetable harvest season. The share of non-tropical produce that enters the United States between May and October grew by 9 percent from 40 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2007.

“New country-of-origin labels will help consumers identify where fresh fruits and vegetables are coming from,” noted Hauter, “but canned produce, frozen vegetable mixes and other processed fruits and vegetables will be unlabeled until the processed food loophole in the country-of-origin rule is closed.”

To read policy recommendations and more findings from The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy: Produce Imports Overwhelm American Farmers and Consumers, visit

Food & Water Watch is a national consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Visit