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Organic Produce from Mexico: Really Organic and Safe?
During the Winter and Spring months most of the U.S. farms aren't growing produce but yet our grocery store shelves are stocked with fruits and vegetables. How is that possible? Well a big reason is because of Mexican imports.
We see that Mexican sticker on our neighborhood grocers produce and wonder, how did these fruits and vegetables arrive here? If Mexican produce is labeled organic, how do we know that it is reliably organic? Is it really safe to eat? How do we know who produced it, how long ago, and what kind of production conditions there are?
Most of us will never have the opportunity to fly down to Mexico to make sure that we approve of the production measures and most of us have never visited a food production site in the United States. So where does this fear come from? Well it comes from media stories about Mexico and it comes from a misunderstood industry, food production. Most people don't know that organic imports from Mexico must meet USDA organic standards.
Many Americans don't realize that millions of tons of produce is imported from Mexico every year. That is a lot of food! Mexico's organic farming and exports have grown at a rate of over 30% each year.
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:
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:
- Inspection of farm fields and processing facilities
- Detailed record keeping of what inputs were applied to the land
- 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 followed suit and published its own Law of Organic Products and with similar regulations.The certified USDA organic label has credibility that is born from ongoing oversight that penalizes lawbreakers. On-farm audits and regular border inspections are important parts of organic certification and food safety testing.
There are farms in Meixo that are certified 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,” which can take days. If you have something perishable, like ripe tomatoes sitting in the heat, the delay can be very costly. There is significant economic incentive for cleanliness and clear documentation of a product’s origins and chain of custody.
The major problem is that consumers have a misconception of Mexican produce being not accurately labeled organic and with the safety of the produce imported from Mexico. Understanding the process and knowing the facts about the imports from our southern neighbor will help guide your future produce and food purchases.
Special Thanks to our friends at GoodFood World.
Is Organic Produce from Mexico Really Organic and Safe?