A GE Chile?   In 2008, New Mexicans were alerted to the fact that their taxes were being used to fund development of a genetically engineered (GE) chile.  Chile (Spanish for peppers) is a staple food crop grown and consumed by many New Mexicans who have saved and replanted their seeds for hundreds of years. 

Now, farmers, through no intent of their own, may find that their saved seeds are contaminated with patented GE traits.  The result:  Farmers subject to litigation and damages as the result of lawsuits filed by the patent owners for patent infringement.  And, worse, almost certain loss of the invaluable and unique traits of the farmer’s own seed, developed through hundreds of years of breeding.  

In response, the Save NM Seeds Coalition was created to work toward protecting our native chile varieties.  Comprised of farmers, ranchers, consumers, religious groups and others, the first action was to pass legislation that would protect not only chile farmers, but all farmers who might become contaminated unknowingly by patented GE traits.  This has become known as the Farmer Liability Bill.

Who is behind the GE chile?    The New Mexico Chile Association (NMCA), formerly the NM Chile Task Force, was created in partnership with New Mexico State University (NMSU).  In 2006 it changed its name and became a non-profit membership organization that lobbies for government and public funds.  The NMCA is comprised primarily of chile processors and businesses.   At their request, New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Experimental Station (AES), other departments, and biotech companies are working to develop a GE chile for their members.

Until recently, the board of directors was comprised of the owners of three of the largest processors in NM – Bueno Foods (aka El Encanto, Inc.), Rezolex, Inc; and CervantesEnterprises.  Bueno Foods is one of the oldest chile processors in NM.   Rezolex is one of two companies in the USA that extracts oleoresin from paprika and farms in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.  Cervantes Enterprises, with a farm operation in southern New Mexico, produces approximately 80% of all the cayenne pepper mash used in Tabasco sauces in the United States.[1] All three companies import chile from outside the US.[2]

Why a GE chile?    Ironically, the NMCA contends that a GE chile is necessary for the industry to survive because the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) opened the doors for import of cheaper chile peppers from Mexico.   Another reason cited is the need for a chileresistant to diseases that are not common among non-monoculture fields.  New Mexico does not have the land to ever supply all the chilesused by commercial producers.  But why jeopardize New Mexico’s culture and the landrace varieties that are naturally drought tolerant and disease resistant? 

Action.   Join us to protect our chiles and yours, as the development of a GE chile will have ramifications on peppers throughout the world.  Help us spread the word.  Pledge No to GE Chile.  Let restaurant owners, chile product producers, grocery store owners, and farmers know that you do not want a GE chile of any variety.  We must work together to defend our seeds and the Freedom to Farm.

[1] Interim Economic and Rural Development Committee, September 2010.

[2] Robinson-Avila, “Imports Scorch New Mexico Chile ProducersNM Business Weekly, September 18, 2009; “ Despite red-letter year, domestic chili pepper growers worry about foreign imports” Associated Press, August 13, 2006.