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Have Food Will Travel

Avocados from Mexico, bananas from Guatemala, plums from Chile, oranges from Florida, and mushrooms from British Columbia. A lot of consumers pay little attention to today’s highly complex global food system, as much of the food production and processing occurs far away from where they live.

The Canada-U.S. border sees a high volume of fresh produce; however, it is not just goods traded between Canada and the U.S. Fresh fruits and vegetables continuously arrive from around the globe. These foods that end up in our favorite grocery stores are the result of the combined efforts of growers, packers, shippers, and indeed customs agents and brokers.

When fresh farm produce travels, it often requires a variety of services, including air or ocean transport, warehousing, and ground or intermodal service, such as refrigerated container-on-flatcar intermodal. It also involves the use of energy usually in the form of fossil fuel that can result in related environmental costs and impacts. Additionally, while regular dry goods cargo may be capable of enduring extreme temperatures en route, produce can be extremely susceptible to moisture and temperature variance, and so this must be continuously monitored. Efficient movement of goods is an essential strategy to provide food security while keeping environmental impacts and related costs to a minimum.

Often food must move across one or more borders while complying with each country's food-specific import requirements. In addition to paperwork requirements, shippers must stay current on an ever-lengthening list of regulations to ensure cross-border compliance. Keeping up with changing rules can take a team of experts, and shippers often must rely on their customs brokerage.

For example, in Canada, there are specific labeling requirements. The country of origin declaration is mandatory on all containers of imported fresh fruits or vegetables, regardless of whether they are packaged whole or packaged fresh-cut (minimally processed) fresh fruits or vegetables. This requirement applies whether or not imported prepackaged fresh fruits or vegetables are repackaged in Canada [269(3), SFCR].

Every container of imported prepackaged fresh fruits or vegetables shall be labeled to show the words "Product of", "Produce of", "Grown in" or "Country of Origin", followed by the name of the country of origin of the produce. Other words which clearly indicate the country in which the fresh fruits or vegetables were grown may also be used [269(1), SFCR].

A proactive customs broker will navigate these regulations and keep goods moving, resolving paperwork issues and logistical jambs along the way to decrease the potential for costly delay.

Some people make conscious choices to buy a food product because it is locally grown, others may be considering whether it is organic and whether the farming practices protect soil and water resources, or provide good wages and working conditions for the farm workers. Some people may be looking for several of these attributes, while others still may just be buying the best food they can afford that satisfies their dietary needs. No matter the situation, the food they chose will likely have traveled, and in many cases may have moved a significant distance, crossing several international borders. In a world with a population of over 7.6 billion people, with substantial gaps between the growers and the population centers, food will need to continue to travel significant distances if we are to meet nutritional needs. Customs brokers play an important role, getting our food shipments cleared through import regulations quickly, ensuring efficient movement of goods, and enhancing food security while helping to keep environmental impacts and costs to a minimum.