From The Shipping Crate To Our Plate

Posted: August 26, 2013

Do we look at our plate and think about where our food comes from or what resources were used to get it there? Probably not that often. But as the world’s population continues to rise, perhaps it will be a thought that creeps into our minds more often as consumers. The amount of agricultural products imported into the U.S. continues to increase each year due to its growing wealthy population and its growing ethnic diversity.

To help keep imported foods safe, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, which increased the number of routine inspections of foreign food facilities. Imported foods are also evaluated by field exams, review of entry documents, and history of previously violated shipments from the same supplier. If a supplier refuses inspection then the food import can be denied access into the U.S. Most denials are due to insufficient labeling. Imported meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and nuts fall under the Country of Origin Labeling legislation, or COOL. This does not apply to processed foods, food mixtures, or local markets. The next time you’re at the store, attempt to find a food that is labeled with its country of origin. Hint: try looking in the seafood section.
The U.S. imports 91% of its seafood. As a result, fish remains the #1 food import. The majority of fish and shellfish imported to the U.S. are from China. The top three sellers include tilapia, scallops, and oysters. Just as the U.S. is a top importer of food from China, China is a top importer of food from the U.S. 
Sixty percent of U.S. soybeans are exported, and the majority is exported to China. While humans consume imported fish from China, animals consume imported soybeans from the U.S. Why? China’s population is consuming more animal protein as they become wealthier. An increased demand for animal protein means an increased demand for soybeans to feed those animals.
Ultimately, there are side-effects as trading keeps increasing to meet people’s needs around the world. Ships are becoming massive and can no longer fit through the Panama Canal without first unloading some goods to relieve weight. China is currently building a third lane of locks through the Panama Canal, which is set to be completed this year.  However, the newest proposal is the Nicaraguan Canal- a $40 billion project that could begin as early as 2015. The canal will be developed and managed by the Hong Kong Nicaraguan Development Group, or HKND Group for short. The construction may include a canal, rail line, oil pipeline, 2 deep water ports, 2 international airports, and free trade zones along the canal. It’s estimated to take 10 years to build and will be 100% machine constructed.
A $40 billion infrastructure is not our only concern. Since 1960 cultivated acreage has remained virtually constant. If the demand for agricultural products continues to increase, where will the food come from? Sustainability of the world’s food production remains an issue as world population rises. So, the next time you are eating, think about the journey your food may have taken to reach your plate, and the natural resources that may have been used to get it there. You will respect it that much more.