Today I had the chance to talk to Vickilynn the owner of RealFoodLiving.com and in our conversation the topic of the Country of Origin Labeling came up. Well, honestly, I’ve seen some of the labels on some produce at the major stores (which is why I’m always touting “BUY LOCAL Food”) but again, I never thought too much about the canned goods.
I decided it was time to do some detailed research on where did that food really come from?
Before my internet research started I decided to look at some store bought canned goods I have on hand.
My first pick was a small can of mushrooms that were purchased at Aldi’s and they are Aldi’s private label – Happy Harvest. The label is clearly
I looked at the can of Green Giant (General Mills) mushrooms and was a little surprised to find the same message.
Google wasn’t being too kind in the beginning in my research because I was coming up with nothing. It’s like manufacturers don’t want us to know where I food is coming from but then… I found Panjiva.com
With panjiva you can match suppliers and numbers of shipments to companies. I typed in General Mills, Happy Harvest, and Grapes.
As you can see (even in the limited free version of panjiva.com we get a lot of grapes from Chile and Wal-Mart is their #3 buyer. (the grapes I sell come from a farm about 25 miles away
I decided to look at some import information to see how much food the US actually imports and here’s a very interesting report.
If you don’t want to read the entire report, the basics are: we are a major importer of produce and vegetables (I’ll leave meat for another post) importing MUCH more than we export.
The US has lower tariff’s than most countries and in some cases we allow imports duty-free, as this report explains perfectly in the Summary on the 2nd page and look at the chart on the 4th page.
The numbers in this Congressional Report were enlightening but left me wondering where does all the food go that we grow in the US? If we are only exporting a small amount and importing huge amounts – where’s the food we grow?
This report shows a list and percentage of fruits and vegetables that we import from various other countries. Mexico, for example, 34% of tomatoes, avocado, onions, peppers etc. are imported from Mexico.
So back to my search about Country of Origin labeling; I googed it.
I read a lot of the reports on this website http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/COOL
COOL, as it’s known, are not new regulations, this practice was introduced in the 2002 Farm Bill with a start date of Sept, 2004. However, there were some glitches and Congressional issues and the final bill was passed in 2009.
If you read this report http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5101244 you’ll notice that only PACA (Perishable Agriculture Commodities Aact of 1930) licensed facilities have to adhere to the rules of COOL. I clicked the link and put in the name of my local grocery stores to see if they are suppose to comply and only 1 of them was listed meaning the other one doesn’t have to comply with COOL.
There are a lot of in’s and out’s with COOL, which is beautifully explained in this video:
So I learned about COOL but I still wanted to know where the vegetables in the canned goods originated from.
I decided to start with some big name companies such as General Mills, Del Monte, and Campbell’s.
I choose some canned veggies at random from their list:
And then I ran across this interesting video regarding corn:
But General Mill’s brand Cascadian Farm is right here in the USA producing high quality organic foods in Washington state, so keep that in mind while you are shopping.
I couldn’t find as much info on Del Monte as I wanted but I was impressed with some of their agriculture techniques found here. According to them, some of their seeds are genetically modified and others are not.
This video breaks down the countries in which most of their produce is grown by category. Doesn’t sound like many of their products are grown in the US.
Campbell’s Soup seems to seek out local growers to partner with and I have to say, I was quite impressed with this company. I found several video’s and links that supported my findings.
In summary tracking food back to it’s origin is much harder than I ever anticipated.
A total of about 3 hours was spent simply trying to find out where ‘that’ food was grown! Should it really take a person so long to find out where the food is grown? I don’t believe so.
Luckily, at this point for our family, we don’t have to purchase many of the vegetable products because we grow and preserve our own. I’ve also spent a great deal of time establishing relationships with local growers.
If you are concerned about growing practices in various countries, transit times of ‘fresh’ produce (by sea can take up to 7-10 days) from the field to the port… I suggest you research your local farmer’s market or your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Here is the link to Local Harvest where you can search by city or zip.
I will continue my push to “Buy Local” or at least patron companies that have proof of a product being raised in the US.
I hope this was helpful for you. I learned a lot!