Chinese Imports Threaten US Food Security, Experts Warn
The influx of cheap canned food imported from China is raising concerns about food safety and security in the United States. American farmers and food producers are voicing their worries about China’s unfair advantages in the food industry, citing low standards, tariffs, and potential forced labor in the supply chain. The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), a trade association supporting can manufacturers, highlights the challenges American producers face compared to Chinese counterparts.
Chinese producers enjoy savings on tariffs and lower production costs due to their ability to evade steel tariffs and operate under less stringent quality and labor regulations. This disparity has led to cheaper, potentially lower-quality food products entering the American market, circumventing the strict standards enforced by U.S. regulatory agencies like the FDA. CMI’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Sherrie Rosenblatt, emphasizes that this inequality threatens the American food industry.
In 2022, China became the largest importer of agricultural and related products to the United States, with imports valued at $9.5 billion, a 9.5% increase from the previous year. Canned products, including processed fruits and vegetables, made up a significant portion of these imports.
China’s canned food exports globally rose by 12% to over 3.1 million tons in 2022, with exports to the U.S. increasing by 19% to 396,300 tons. Experts point out that China tends to expand its market penetration when entering new markets.
The concerns about Chinese-produced canned food are part of a broader issue: the increasing Chinese control of U.S. agriculture, including a growing amount of American agricultural land owned by Chinese companies. While Chinese ownership accounts for less than 1%, the overall trend of foreign land ownership has raised concerns among American agricultural industry leaders.
One way Chinese producers compete with their American counterparts and increase their market share is by compromising on quality and safety controls, resulting in a high rate of health and safety recalls. Imported products from mainland China, including food products, accounted for 149 recalls in 2022, affecting 9.3 million units.
A significant issue in food safety recalls involves contamination, such as the 2008 Chinese milk incident in which infant formula and other foods were tainted with melamine, causing health problems for consumers. This incident highlights the risks associated with relying on Chinese-produced food products.
Twelve agriculture associations have called on U.S. lawmakers to prioritize American producers in federal procurement practices. The associations argue that domestic manufacturers cannot compete with the low production costs of certain imported agricultural products, which do not adhere to the same environmental, safety, and labor standards.
CMI is investigating whether Chinese producers might be using forced labor to keep their costs low, which would give them an unfair advantage over American businesses. Robert Budway, president of CMI, believes that Uyghurs may be involved in various parts of the supply chain in China, such as mining ore for steel or aluminum. The Uyghurs, an ethnic minority in China, are subject to forced labor and other human rights abuses, as reported by the State Department.
To address these issues, experts are calling for better country-of-origin labeling for food products to help consumers make informed choices. Clearer labels that indicate the product’s origin could help ensure American consumers choose products that meet higher safety and quality standards.
CMI also advocates for repealing steel tariffs on American manufacturers and food producers throughout the supply chain, enabling them to compete fairly with imported products. The ultimate concern is that if China displaces a substantial portion of American agriculture and food manufacturing, it could wield significant influence over the U.S. food supply, impacting farmers and food producers.
While China’s influence over the U.S. food supply is not as substantial as its control over critical minerals, such as graphite used in electric vehicle batteries, experts warn that the consequences should not be underestimated. Shifting the market and harming food producers and farmers are potential outcomes of China’s growing role in the American food industry.