June 12th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Organic Produce from Mexico
A question that I am frequently asked is “how can we be sure that organic food grown in Mexico is truly organic?” This question tends to draw concern from quite a few of our retail customers and many of their shoppers as well. For many shoppers, knowing that their food comes from Mexico will automatically trigger this question – “ if Mexican produce is labeled organic, how do we know that it is reliably organic and can we trust that it’s safe to eat?”
Unfortunately, there are far too many misconceptions and misunderstandings about Mexican grown produce – even when it’s raised organically. The most important line that I will write in this article is the following: organic imports from Mexico must meet USDA organic standards. That’s really all you need to know in a nutshell, but let’s go ahead and explore this further.
To sell a certified organic item of food in the United States, grown in the United States, Mexico, or anywhere else in the world, it must meet all the strict requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program. This means that it was produced without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or irradiation.
As important, it must then be certified by a USDA-accredited agency. The certification process includes: 1) inspection of farm fields and processing facilities 2) detailed record keeping of what inputs were applied to the land, and 3) if determined a need for – soil and water testing. Currently, at least 15 organic certification agencies operate in Mexico.
The National Organic Program (NOP) has been recognized and enforced since October 2002, when the United States implemented the Organic Food Production Act. In February 2006, the Mexican government published its own Law of Organic Products and with similar regulations. On-farm audits and regular border inspections are important parts of organic certification and food safety testing in Mexico. There are farms in Mexico that are certified both as organic and for food safety by U.S. based companies that conduct microbiological testing for E. coli and salmonella and chemical testing for pesticides. The USDA started regular and extensive testing at border inspections to fight against food safety threats. Most Mexican produce travels to the United States via truck and when a truck is set aside for scrutiny, you can’t move the product until the lab results return.
Mexico is estimated to have more than 110,000 organic farmers, considered the greatest number in any country of the world. More than 90 percent of these growers farm on less than 9 acres and sell their products collectively. The majority of Mexico’s organic farmers grow for the export market with 90% of the organic food grown in Mexico being raised for export. The majority of Mexico’s organic farmers grow for the export market out of necessity, as there is a lack of demand for domestic organics in Mexico. Interestingly though, by importing food from Mexican growers who receive a living wage, particularly those who sell products recognized as “Fair Trade, we are allowing farmers to remain in their own communities rather than leave home to find employment. If they did not have the opportunity to export their crops to the U.S and therefore make a living wage, many of these farmers would likely leave Mexico to become part of the migrant labor force in order to provide for themselves and their families.
In the United States, so much of our food system – from farm to plate – often relies on a labor force that comes from Mexico. The USDA reports that more than half the hired workers employed by U.S. produce growers are believed to be undocumented workers. Whether by intention or simply coincidence, the rise of organic food production in Mexico has been a very healthy development for farmers and the people of the Mexican farming communities. It’s about far more than just having our favorite organic fruit and vegetables available during the winter months.
For those concerned about food safety – organic fresh produce grown in Mexico is just fine – it’s fully certified organic, meeting the same certification requirements as what we grow here in the United States.