Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

You say “chile,” I say “chili,” let’s call the whole thing ... a feverish debate involving a single letter of the alphabet.

Whether they’re grown in New Mexico or not, chili peppers are chili peppers here in Packerland, no “e” allowed.

But in the Land of Enchantment, if you use an “i” instead of an “e” when talking about those long green and red hot things they put in just about everything, possibly even ice cream, them’s fightin’ letters.

But if you think growers, marketers and New Mexicans in general get hot when you call their chiles chilis, that’s nothing compared to what happens when peppers grown in another state or country try to pass themselves off as New Mexico-grown.

It happens a lot, and it’s easy to see why, given the brand power of New Mexico chilis. A few years ago, New Mexico’s state Legislature decided to do something about it, passing a law that cracks down on carpetbaggers trying to pass their “foreign” peppers off as locally grown.

It makes me wonder if there was ever a local New Mexico version of that Pace salsa ad, involving suckers who thought they were buying New Mexico chilis, then found out the truth.

“These chilis were grown in New York City! New York City?! Get a rope.”

That law was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough, Duane Gillis of Hatch, N.M.-based grower-shipper Desert Spring Produce, told me.

“There were quite a few loopholes,” Gillis said.

A 2013 upgrade of that law will go a lot further toward ensuring that growers like Desert Spring aren’t competing against posers. And, Gillis said, it empowers retailers to take action when they find counterfeit product.

“Anything that goes into the store mis-tagged, they can take it off the shelf. There’s a lot coming out of other states being tagged ‘New Mexico.’”

According to some media accounts, the new version of the old law could have taken even more dramatic action — requiring, for instance, that out-of-state product have a label stating explicitly that it was not grown in New Mexico.

There were also reports that labels would indicate that chilis were not only grown in New Mexico, but, if applicable, that they were grown in Hatch, the epicenter of New Mexico chili production.

Neither is the case. But as far as Gillis and other growers are concerned, the new law has plenty of teeth to take the old law’s noble intent and make it stick.

New Mexico’s earned it. As Rep. Rudy Martinez, D-N.M., the new bill’s sponsor, told the Las Cruces Sun-News newspaper: “Florida has its oranges, Georgia has Vidalia onions, Washington state is known for apples. Why not make sure that New Mexico chili is treated in the same way?”

Agreed. Just as long as the New Mexicans don’t start passing laws coming after those of us who choose “i” over “e.”

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.