By Stewart Truelsen
“Made in USA” are three words you won’t see very often on items sold by major retailers. It’s so true of consumer goods that a store in upstate New York is making a name for itself by selling only items made in the United States.
The Made in America store has been so popular that buses on the way to Niagara Falls are stopping at Elma, N.Y., so tourists can visit. The owner proudly tells shoppers that he has carefully researched everything he sells and all items are 100 percent made-in-America products.
The fact of the matter is that if you want to buy products made in this country you don’t have to drive to New York. Your best bet is to shop at a supermarket or farmers’ market. According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Americans spend 91 percent of their food dollars on food produced here. The report doesn’t itemize, but it’s a good bet that coffee, tea, tropical fruit and seafood account for a large measure of imported food.
If you shop at one of the major discount retailers for consumer goods, the numbers tell a much different story. Nearly 36 percent of personal expenditures for clothing and shoes are for products labeled “Made in China.” American-made clothing and shoes account for just 25 percent of all purchases. A separate report by the Toy Industry Association found that 90 percent of children’s toys are made in China.
On a recent trip to a major discount retailer, we found clothing made in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and a country we weren’t familiar with at all—Lesotho.
It turns out that Lesotho is an impoverished African nation where several major clothing companies have set up assembly operations because labor is so cheap.
Globalization and technology have caused the loss of many factory jobs in the United States. Things we used to buy that were made with American hands are now made by foreign hands or aren’t made with human hands at all, but robots. Some call this progress, others call it unfair and few think it will change.
As Americans we sometimes take food for granted. We’ve never had a major food shortage, and we can choose from an infinite variety of safe, affordable food. But, it is not just that we take food for granted. It’s that we take American food for granted.
We may accept buying a pair of jeans stitched in Lesotho, but would we feel the same about purchasing food from there? It’s doubtful we would. The locavores who insist on locally produced food would have an even bigger problem accepting it.
At a time when so many consumer goods are imported and some Americans are even leaving the country to save money on dental work, surgery or prescription drugs, we need to be thankful for American agriculture and support the efforts of farmers and ranchers. Our homegrown food supply is an important economic strength and an envy of the rest of the world.
Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series and is the author of a book marking the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 90th anniversary, Forward Farm Bureau.