February 20, 2015
Support Senate Bill 576
Amend the Chile Act to Exempt all Native Chiles
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/pueblo 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 of whom 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 . . . 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 the grower is registered with the NM Department of Agriculture. This is an attempt to take control of our local identity and our chile by blurring history 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 honored.”
In August 2014, the NMCA trademarked the term “New Mexico Certified Chile” for use solely by their members. Their press release states that this certification “program builds on this legislation (NM Chile Act), giving consumers confidence that they are using the finest New Mexico Chile.” The NMCA is holding hostage the farmers’ right to refer to their chile as “New Mexican,” and the right to call it by its varietal name, unless you register. Yet now the NMCA has trademarked the very name of the state. Farmers who have traditionally grown chiles in New Mexico for centuries are justifiably outraged.
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’s brother is the current NMCA Board President, Dino Cervantes, who hypocritically 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, they could legally refer to their crop as “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 non-industry growers, tracking every sale and location of farms.
A bill introduced in the 2015 legislature would have required lobbyists to disclose their compensation, the issue(s) they are lobbying for or against, and to list each recipient who received funds. Steve Terrell writes in the Taos News that a lobbyist testified such reporting on the “dozens of bills…could be cumbersome.” The NM Secretary of State’s Ethics Director stated “reporting requirements would cost money.” Even the Committee Chairwoman, Yvette Herrell (R) Alamogordo, was sympathetic to the lobbyists’ plight, stating that the bill was “government overreach” and asked for “too much information.”
In addition to registering with the NMDA, a verification form must follow every sale a farmer makes. Enforcement of the NM Chile Act is conducted by 6 inspectors at an estimated annual cost of $525,000 (NM Legislative Finance Council 2011 FIR $87,500 each). Triggered by a mere phone call, an NMDA inspector has the right to come onto a person’s place of business, store, market or other business or place to inspect a person’s records related to “chile peppers being advertised, described, labeled or offered for sale as NM chile.”
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 taxpayer funding (on behalf of the NMCA) for research, 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, including tobacco settlement funds, 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 cultural/historical staple food crop should never come at the expense of a successful and healthy way of life. Or, as late historian and nativo chile producer Estevan Arrellano put it: “Stay out of our huertas!”
The NM “True” is continued impoverishment of New Mexicans through mandatory registration of people simply growing food to feed themselves.
Support Senate Bill 576
Amend the NM Chile Advertising Act
Exempting Native Chile Pepper Varieties
Sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez (D)
The First Committee hearing will be: SENATE CONSERVATION
Tuesday & Thursday – 2:00 p.m. (Room 311)
Please follow us on www.savenmseeds.org for notice when the first hearing will take place. Once we know the date, we ask that you call the committee members asking for their support.
Title Name Role
505-986-4861 Senator Peter Wirth, Chair
505-986-4310 Senator Benny Shendo, Jr., Vice Chair
505-986-4385 Senator Joseph Cervantes
505-986-4513 Senator Phil A. Griego
505-986-4487 Senator Richard C. Martinez
505-986-4703 Senator William H. Payne
505-986-4381 Senator William E. Sharer
505-986-4380 Senator William P. Soules
505-986-4393 Senator Pat Woods
505-986-4373 Senator John C. Ryan