August 19, 2014
To: Assignments Editor
From: Save NM Seeds Coalition
The Save New Mexico Seeds Coalition disagrees that “New Mexico Chile” is the
same as “Idaho Potatoes.”... The New Mexico Certified Chile trademark program
sounds like a good idea, but here is the NM Truth.
Hatch chile does not exist. The New Mexico Chile Association (NMCA) would love for
you to believe there really is a Hatch chile, but what’s in a name?
Real New Mexico (NM) chile is not the same as “Florida Oranges” or “Idaho Potatoes.”
Neither state has native oranges or potatoes. NM has landrace chiles locally adapted
from seed saved for over 400 years. These chiles are named after the geographic areas
where they are grown. New Mexico State University (NMSU) developed modern chile
varieties for the chile industry, primarily used in processing and grown predominantly in
the southern part of NM. These seeds are not saved.
Save NM Seeds is not opposed to supporting NM grown chile but to the laws introduced
and passed for the benefit of the NMCA and NMSU. Sales of landrace chiles,
sometimes called “chile nativo” (native chile), are doing phenomenally well at local
farmers markets and roadside stands. If the NMCA wants to create a certified trademark
for their “New Mexico Chile,” it should be a strictly voluntary program and not impede on
local growers’ freedom to farm.
In 2011, a bill called “The New Mexico Chile Advertising Act” was introduced on behalf of
the NMCA by Senator George Munoz from McKinley County. The NMCA is comprised
of chile industry processors and businesses, some who also have operations in Texas,
Arizona, Mexico, and elsewhere. Enacted in 2012, the bill made it “unlawful for a person
to knowingly advertise, describe, label or offer for sale chile peppers as NM chile…, or a
product as containing NM chile, unless the chile peppers or chile peppers in the product
were grown in NM.” This law defines “New Mexico chile” as “capsicum annuum, which
includes all types of peppers such as jalapenos, Italian sweet peppers, yellow hots, etc.
The law allows for 5% of non-New Mexican chile to be included.
In 2013, the NM legislature passed an amendment to the Chile Act called “Expanding
the Violations of the NM Chile Advertising Act”. This bill now criminalizes any grower
who uses the name of any city, town, county, village, pueblo, mountain, river or other
geographic feature or features located in NM, unless they are registered with the NM
Department of Agriculture. This is an attempt to take control of our local identity and our
chile by blurring and commodifying a staple food crop. Paul Romero, a farmer and
nativo chile producer from Velarde says, “This law threatens local autonomy of seed and
food sovereignty. The geographic origin of seeds should be respected and the names
The public posture of NMCA is that they are presenting the truth. But the tactics they
have used are anything but honest. At the hearing of the amended Chile Act in the
Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012, Chairperson Sen. Richard Martinez, announced
the committee would recess at 6 pm and called out the bills to be heard that night. The
chile bill was not mentioned. The committee did not end at 6 pm. The vice-chair, Sen.
Joseph Cervantes continued the hearing and the bill passed. Sen. Cervantes’ brother is
the current NMCA Board President, Dino Cervantes, who ironically plants more chile
acreage in Mexico than in New Mexico.
The NM Department of Agriculture (NMDA) held a hearing on July 10, 2013, on
amending the NM Chile Act. At this meeting we learned that if a farmer planted Isleta
chile seed in the South Valley of Albuquerque and registered their farm, the chile could
be called “Hatch chile.” The “NM Chile Act” makes it legal to be deceptive or misleading,
as long you register. Even chile grown in Chaves County could be called “Hatch chile.”
The NMCA lobbied vigorously in opposition to the GMO labeling bill presented in the
2013 legislative session, arguing that it was unnecessary regulation. Yet they want to
regulate, place burdensome paperwork and verification requirements on small nonindustry
growers, tracking every sale and location of farms.
This law is another block in an entire construct of laws designed to control who owns
chile, and to regulate how it is grown, shared or sold. NMSU is developing a genetically
engineered chile for the NMCA, using traits from our landrace chiles. NMSU receives
funding (on behalf of the NMCA), will own the seed patent (on genes taken from the
public domain), regulates and knows the location of chile farmers (through enforcement
of the NM Chile Act by NMDA), and certifies the seed (NMSU Seed Certification Office).
It is wrong to use taxpayer money to prop up one troubled industry at the expense of
local viable economies. The NMCA should not be functioning as a governmental entity,
nor should they be using taxpayer money to regulate other businesses. The NMCA is an
association for private business and has no right to determine laws that affect other
businesses or businesspeople. The NM Department of Agriculture should not be
functioning as an enforcement arm of the NMCA. The net effect of this law is that
lobbyists have moved into the legislative and regulatory bodies of government, and are
using taxpayer money to do so. Efforts to trademark and further commodify a staple
food crop should never come at the expense of a successful and healthy way of life. Or,
as historian and nativo chile producer, Estevan Arrellano puts it: “Stay out of our