Organic Mexican Produce, Fair Trade and the Cocaine Market: A Discussion

With permission, I am sharing this email that came in to me today as a follow-on to the discussion about Fair Trade chocolate, and where Mexican chocolate comes from.  The following comes from a reader who only buys organic and who is frustrated with the demise of the small Mexican farmer as NAFTA drives down prices and drives up the production and sale of cocaine.

“The “organic” designation in Mexico is very difficult to get.  It is strictly given, but costs a fair bit to renew every year.  You can buy a number of Mexican products (I know a coffee grower in Guerrero) where the growers only get their “organic” designation every few years so the product might not be labelled.  It is simply too expensive to do every year.

“I can though buy “organic” Mexican limes that are small and irregular in colour and shape and very flavourful.  I can buy “organic” US limes which are the size of oranges and all uniform in size, and have a bland flavour.  I will bet that the Mexican ones are honestly organic, and that the US ones have chemicals and are GM (genetically modified).  Unfortunate that this is allowed to exist.

It is worth research as well, how much it costs to get “fair trade” designation. Large companies who can afford it, are more likely to have the legal right to use it than small producers.  There is a lot of trickery in these things…  one of the funniest ones I find now is people being “green” and advertising “organic bamboo” clothing for a higher price than cotton.  Fabric made from bamboo is actually “rayon” which has been sold for many years.  Since bamboo grows so quickly (I am sure you notice that in Oaxaca) it doesn’t need chemicals.  There is always a way to get more money than something is truly worth.

“I spend lots of time in Mexican markets, and lots of conversations with sellers – unfortunately because of the “free trade” agreements, foods like avocados from Mexico were banned from sale in the US for many years, in competition with those from California.  At the same time, most of the apples and pears that you find for sale in Mexican markets are from the state of Washington in the US.  It is all a mess, not just as simple as one might think.

“Mexico is losing its closest trading partner as far as produce goes.  The US is the largest user of cocaine and other drugs, so the so called “free trade” agreement is pushing people to get involved in the drug trade, a product that can easily be sold within the US.”
Central to this discussion, is the impact of fair trade in Mexico on the business of tourism.  As the demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. goes up, the drug trafficking in Mexico will also increase along with the associated violence.  I am hearing daily about the fear people have of traveling to Mexico.  And, while the violence is pretty much contained to the U.S.-Mexico border states, there is widespread fear of travel to all parts of Mexico, including Oaxaca.  Perhaps it is time to redefine Fair Trade?

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