Whether it’s the food we eat or drink or the products we use or drive, the global marketplace is a major source of all we consume in American life. There are benefits, of course, in lower prices or availability of reasonably fresh produce outside the American growing season.
On the other hand, our failure to support goods that are “made in America,” or locally grown, has caused a loss of American jobs and a loss of family farms.
Recent news reports that low levels of a fungicide that isn't approved in the U.S. was discovered in some orange juice sold here. Brazil, where the fungicide-laced juice originated, produces a good portion of the orange pulpy stuff we drink. But that's not the only surprise lurking in government data about where we get our food.
Overall, about 16.8 percent of the food we eat is imported from other countries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up from 11.3 percent two decades ago. About half the fresh fruit we eat comes from elsewhere. That's more than double the amount in 1975. Some 86 percent of the shrimp, salmon, tilapia, and other fish and shellfish we eat comes from other countries. That's up from about 56 percent in 1990.
It's just become much cheaper to pay for shipping food from distant countries, where wages are often lower and expensive environmental rules often more lax than in the U.S. For instance, while 85 percent of the apple juice we drink is imported, only about 7 percent of the apples we eat are.
Andy Jerardo, an economist at the USDA, says that's because the juice often comes from China, which produces apples that are inferior for snacking but good for drinking. It is important to check where our food comes from and, whenever possible, buy local produce and seafood.
It’s not just the food we consume that comes from overseas. Another product that we purchase regularly is gasoline. Our dependence on foreign oil is a threat to our national security and economic recovery as the price at the pump continues to drain our wallets. In New England, our utility costs and heating needs remind us that we need to find domestic supplies and promote renewable energy. Recently, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation designed to lower utility bills, but a national solution is ultimately needed.
All of the major television networks have tried to educate us about the importance to our national economy and even national security that comes with purchased of American made products. We all know that dependence on foreign oil is harming our economy, but what about manufactured goods. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and even the souvenirs we collect at historic sites across America, are made outside the United States. Even the ornaments on our Christmas tree are usually from China. In fact, the only holiday ornament manufacturer left in the United States is ChemArt in nearby Lincoln, Rhode Island. Fortunately, ChemArt makes the ornaments for the White House, the Capitol, and most Presidential Libraries, and they do an excellent job.
Whenever we purchase a product that is not manufactured, or at least assembled, in the United States, we deprive fellow Americans of jobs. The state and local governments need to lead by example. For that reason, I’ve introduced a bill to encourage state procurement activities to give preference to products made in America if the price is within ten percent of the cost of foreign made goods. Senate Bill No. 2198, which has twenty-eight co-sponsors and bi-partisan support from the House and Senate.
State leadership on this issue is important, but each one of us could take the time to check where products we might purchase are made. I know we’re part of a global economy, but we should make an effort to purchase products grown, processed, assembled or manufactured here in America and, when possible, in Massachusetts. After all, our economic recovery and prosperity, like charity, begins at home.
Senator Richard T. Moore represents 14 towns in South Central Massachusetts comprising of the Worcester and Norfolk senatorial district. He is a member of the Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and has made putting people back to work his top priority in this session of the Legislature. To learn more about Sen. Moore’s efforts in the Legislature, visit www.senatormoore.com, or keep up with him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatormoore.