April 5, 2011 / 8:44 PM / 8 years ago

A New Mexico chile from China? Absolutely not

SANTA FE, N.M (Reuters) - Chile eaters in New Mexico will now know whether the beloved pepper is grown locally or flown in from China or India.

The New Mexico Chile Advertising Act — signed by Governor Susana Martinez on Tuesday — makes it illegal to advertise any product as a New Mexico chile unless the chile is grown in the state.

“People all over the country advertise New Mexico chile — whether it’s genuine or not,” said Rep. Andy Nunez, who sponsored the bill. “This law makes it easier to protect one of our state’s most treasured products and preserve the good name of our world-class chiles.”

New Mexico is known for its green chile in particular, used to make a sauce that’s slathered over burritos, on omelets and on just about any other food. The rich, spicy sauce — not to be confused with ‘chili,’ the meat dish famous in Texas — is so popular that legislators once voted the state question to be “red or green?”

But the industry is in decline, pushed out by cheap imports and a lack of water that forces some farmers to grow cotton instead, Nunez said.

Fewer than 9,000 acres of chile plants were harvested in New Mexico in 2010, compared to more than 34,000 acres in 1992, according to the New Mexico Chile Association. The crop contributes $350 million to the state’s economy each year.

“People think our biggest problem comes from Mexico, but it’s really from China and Peru, whose labor is extraordinarily cheap,” said Jaye Hawkins, executive director of the association, which pushed for the bill.

In fact, 82 percent of all chiles consumed in the country are foreign-grown, Hawkins said.

“We just want our consumer to feel confident that when they order New Mexico chile, that’s in fact what it is,” Hawkins said.

Violators of the misdemeanor could be fined or serve time in jail, Nunez said.

Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune

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