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Sustainable Food Supplies and Imports

America’s grocery stores may seem brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, but behind the vibrant displays lies a sobering truth: a significant portion of these products are imported from other countries. 

The new CFWC fact sheet, “Our Food Supply – Sustainability & Imports,” opens the door to discussions about the policies and regulations that have made Americans more dependent on foreign-produced food.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a staggering 60.9% of the fresh fruit and 38.8% of the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States are sourced from abroad.

That’s a 228% increase of fruit and 479% increase of vegetable imports since 1980. This heavy reliance on imports poses a concerning risk to the security and sustainability of our food supply, particularly given the alarming challenges overseas producers face, from political strife, war, degrading natural resources, and inconsistent food safety standards.

Unsustainable Water Use

Foreign food products have been a boon for American consumers, however, the reliance on these products come with deeper concerns: unsustainable water supplies. Of total fruit and vegetable imports, Mexico now accounts for 69 percent of fresh vegetables and 51 percent of fresh fruits that make their way to the United States. This greater dependence on foreign production has other consequences as well. Local businesses that depend on farm production lose out when agricultural production shifts to other countries, just as they did when water shortages devastated Sacramento Valley rice production in 2022.

Mexico is also one of the world’s largest exporters of nuts, with the water-stressed region of Chihuahua a major source of walnut production in the country. During the past 30 years, total nut production has grown significantly in Mexico, with production increasing over 640% from 47,405 tons in 1992 to 304,747 tons in 2022. Walnuts alone have dominated the increase in tree nut production, growing from 2,900 tons in 1992 to more than 176,000 tons in 2022, according to USDA.

Large swaths of Mexican farmland, including regions around Mexicali and the Baja Peninsula are irrigated with water supplies that are not sustainable. The new CFWC fact sheet highlights the rising cost of food in America, UN projections of the growing global food demand, and that overseas producers are not required to meet the same health and safety standards that are common in California.

Planning for the Future

To protect America’s food supply, elected officials and policymakers must consider the long-term effects of their actions. This means making more careful decisions about the policies and regulations that affect farmers who grow our food.

In California, we need to be doing things like investing in water supply infrastructure, such as Sites Reservoir and other surface storage projects, groundwater recharge, new conveyance, and in ecosystem/water supply solutions, like the Voluntary Agreements.

Supporting sustainability for fish, waterfowl, and the farmers who grow our food helps protect Americans from disruptions in our food supply. And they’re investments that make sense for all of California.

Past Releases

The Critical Connection Between Farm Water and Our Food Supply

The California Farm Water Coalition has released two new fact sheets that provide valuable insights into the amount of water required to produce the food Californians consume on a daily basis. ​The fact sheets, titled “Where Does Farm Water Go?” ​ and “Sample Daily Menu,” highlight the significant role water plays on the farms that grow the food that people bring home to their families.

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