The U.S. imports approximately 19 percent of its total food supply, including 80 percent of seafood, 52 percent of fresh fruits, and 22 percent of fresh vegetables (USDA Economic Research Service, 2013). Although food and beverage comprised the smallest imported product category in 2017, the U.S. imported approximately $115.5 billion of animal and plant foods and $21.8 billion of beverages excluding liquors (USDA Economic Research Service, 2018).
One of the main factors contributing to this sizeable volume in imported foods is the dramatic change in food preferences brought about by an increase in the non-Caucasian population in the U.S. As of November 2016, Pew Research Center estimated baby boomers, those born 1946-1964, comprised approximately 70 million people and were about 28 percent non-white. Generation X, those born 1965-1980, comprised 57 million and was about 40 percent non-white, an almost 43 percent increase in ethnic diversity from the baby boomers. Generation Y/millennials, who were born 1981-1996, numbered 62 million during the same time period. Millennials were about 44 percent non-white. Generation Z, composed of those born after 1996, was estimated at 65 million and was almost 50 percent ethnically diverse.
Every generation has characteristics specific to their population. For example, baby boomers led the demand for fresh and less processed foods, organic, and sustainability—food and beverage trends that we still see today. Generation X depended on nutrition information on food labels to make their choices and were increasingly adventurous with the food they chose. The millennials sought variety in foods, including experimenting with new ethnic foods. The millennials also readily integrated technology in their daily lives, sharing their food experiences with their digital social network, thus broadening the exposure and ultimately the acceptance of ethnic foods. The youngest and fast-growing population who grew up completely in the digital age, Generation Z, preferred authentic, global food experiences that they also electronically shared with their contemporaries and affected the other aspects of their lives. Diversity in foods is becoming the norm and imported foods are projected only to increase in volume.
Imported Foods Called for FSVP
To assure imported foods are of the same level of public health protection as food produced in the U.S. and are not adulterated or misbranded with respect to allergen labeling, the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 27, 2015. FSVP changed the focus on food contamination from reactive to preventive and required importers to conduct risk-based verification activities. This was largely driven by high-profile food outbreaks involving imported food and food ingredients, including the 2009 scandal of imported Chinese melamine-contaminated milk used to prepare infant formula, liquid milk, ice cream, other foods containing dairy products, and animal feed. There were at least three confirmed deaths, approximately 53,000 babies who received treatment mostly for kidney damage, and over 20 companies involved in the scam.
The FSVP importer is defined as the U.S. owner or consignee of an article of food for import into the U.S. If there is no U.S. owner or consignee of the food at the time of entry into the U.S., the FSVP importer is the U.S. agent or representative of the foreign owner or consignee at the time of entry as confirmed in a signed statement of consent to serve as the importer. Standard FSVP requirements include a hazard analysis of each imported food (or type of food), evaluation of foreign supplier’s performance and the risk posed by the imported food, foreign supplier approval, appropriate supplier verification and related activities done by “Qualified Individuals,” corrective action when necessary, and keeping records of the FSVP activities. Although persons with technical backgrounds do not find FSVP requirements difficult to comply with, they describe compliance as a tedious, time-consuming responsibility. Importers, who do not possess the technical knowledge, often feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the required FSVP tasks. Qualified Individuals who may or may not be employees of the importers are allowed to perform FSVP activities.