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Organic farming certification now official in Mexico

By Jenny Cook

As the dangers to human health of commercially produced and genetically modified foods are increasingly observed, local organic food producers can finally receive official organic certification for their fruits and vegetables in Mexico.

San Miguel’s Organic Market committee will now embark on peer certification for local farmers.

Officials from REDACC—Mexico’s national network of 24 farmers’ markets—accredited TOSMA, the Tianguis Organico de San Miguel de Allende. TOSMA was formed in 2010 to create a farmer’s market of organic or natural produce for San Miguel. Every Saturday, local organic growers and other craftspeople sell their produce at the corner of the Rosewood property on Ancha de San Antonio.

Luc Monzies, an organic grower and volunteer on the TOSMA committee, says the group recently received updated training and added a few consumers to its committee to be able to go out to small organic farms and give official certification to their peers. The training was provided by Luis Suarez who is accredited by various organic authorities and is part of the National Peer Certification Committee.

In April of this year SAGARPA, (the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food production and Rural Development in Mexico), finally passed the official law on organics. Producers who become certified will use the SAGARPA logo as a stamp on their avocados or preserves made with organic produce.

Producers and consumers in the organic world in Mexico finally have an official foothold and are now working to give precise meaning to the words in the labeling—”natural, transition to organic, and organic”—to vegetables and fruit grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides and according to SAGARPA guidelines.

“This is a critical year in Mexico as regards organic certification,” says Monzies. “TOSMA received REDACC acreditation on Aug. 7, 2010.” This protocol adheres to organic rules set by the University of Chapingo, where REDACC is headquartered and which houses the country’s largest collection of organic seeds.”

“They also came to train us to adopt the regulations of peer certification program,” says Monzies, who also helps run the collective organic food store and nursery, the Bodega Orgánica, currently located on Canal down near the Central de Autobuses.

“The peer certification program (PCP) is a way to help small farmers who want to grow organic, and it also protects the local food systems. In peer certification you have legal obligation to share your experience and knowledge. It is more holistic because it includes education rather than being simply an agency submerged in bureaucracy that simply inspects a growing site and certifies without a productive interchange of ideas with the farmer,” says Monzies he adds that in Bolivia and Brazil, the peer certification program has really helped strengthen local food systems.”

Some criticism leveled against this peer review protocol is that you can’t have it organized for illiterate farmers. Monzies counters: “We say, yes, you have to have organic certification and it has to be based on trust, transparency and traceability.” It is in the best interests of consumers to have honest labeling on “organic produce,” and, as a community of organic growers and consumers, this certification allows the local growers to compete with the dominant international food conglomerates,” says Luc.

All of the PCP’s visits are open to the public so consumers can go along to see for themselves how a farm sets its standards, including what water is used to irrigate, what fertilizers and pest controls are used, etc.

“It’s still open to consumers, and we are ready for a second training in San Miguel so anyone interested may be included.” This inclusion of consumers in the certification process is a mandate from IFOAM, the international authority in organics started in 1972. IFOAM—the uncontested international authority– accredits entire countries and also certifying agencies. It was Ifoam that created the PCP for small farmers in developing countries.

“In fact Mexico is one of the few countries that recognizes peer certification,” continues Monzies. The IFOAM mandate guarantees full transparency and true representation of all parties in the food chain, from growers to consumers and also academics, people specialized in some aspect of plant production such as a botanist, plant pathologist, biologist or related scientists.

“We’re hoping to find people from the academic world who want to join San Miguel’s PCP. “We hope to be able to collaborate with the natural food stores here thus presenting a united front when our food security is threatened by businesses like Monsanto (whose ex-chairman of board now presides over the Food and Drug Administration which sets policy for food standards in US.)

Meanwhile Monzies and others on the peer certification committee are working to create a legend to explain the categories and it will be bi-lingual, in Spanish and English. Consumers need to know if a product is either “natural,” “transition to organics” or outright “organic.”

To be certified, a producer needs to write a letter of intent that they want to sell in the Tianguis Orgánico in San Miguel de Allende. “We then give the applicant a form which is quite extensive—including use of log books, management plan, type of fertilizers and pest control used, how applied, etc.” says Monzies.

There are between two and 10 people from the committee who visit the various farms. The upcoming visits will be published on the TOSMA facebook page.

The fee for certification is a nominal 500 pesos. If the farm is beyond a certain radius outside of San Miguel, the transportation costs of the committee are also charged.

The farmer then agrees to what is written on the form. The committee meets once a month, reviews the pending certifications and determines the status of the various products for sale. Then the SAGARPA seal is applied to products. “This is all in the consumers’ best interest and we’re trying to tighten up operations and make it the best it can be,” says Monzies.

Jenny Cook is an organic grower near Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán who is seeking organic certification. She wrote for Atención in the 1980s and 1990s on environmental issues and has published in the News and La Jornada.


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