How Many Of Our Foods Are From China?

November 19, 2010

Diane Sawyer's evening news reports this week centered on China, the culture and the business.

Diane Sawyer's evening news reports this week centered on China, the culture and the business. What most of us are about to discover is that China is now the third largest source of combined U.S. agricultural and seafood imports, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). U.S. imports of Chinese agricultural and seafood products increased roughly fourfold, from $1 billion in 1997 to $4.9 billion in 2007!

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, China has emerged as a major exporter of a wide range of food products. China’s capital investment in processing facilities helped to achieve its export status, as illustrated by the remarkable growth in their apple juice concentrate exports since the ‘90s. In 1998, Chinese fruit juice exports to the United States were valued below $30,000. The value of these imports soared above $356.8 million in 2009, making China the largest exporter of fruit juices - mainly apple - to the United States. Today, two-thirds of our apple juice now comes from China.

In 2009, seafood imports from China accounted for 517 thousand metric tons or 22 percent of the total U.S. imports. Twenty five percent of whole fish imports now come from China. In 1978, China accounted for 14 percent of frozen fish filets… just 30 years later, China accounted for 49 percent!

Produce imports from China grew from $2 million in 1998 to almost $75.4 million in 2009 and China was the second largest source of U.S. preserved vegetable imports in 2007, with a total import share valued at 20 percent.

It is ever important to read food labels to understand where your food is coming from. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is mandatory on retail products including, whole and ground (single ingredient) beef, goat, lamb, chicken and pork, as well as wild and farm-raised fish and shell fish, and nuts including peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng; so read the labels carefully. One good resource to use is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch which highlights which species are best from which sources around the globe.