(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 12) Another front has been opened in the conflict between U.S. and Mexican tomato producers.
In the midst of uncertainty over the fate of the suspension agreement between Mexican growers and the U.S., there is a new over a proposal to more tightly define what constitutes greenhouse grown produce and create differentiation compared with tomatoes grown in shade houses or other protected agriculture environments in Mexico.
Imports of greenhouse tomatoes from Mexico have taken a bigger share of rising tomato imports, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About one-quarter of U.S. imports of 949,000 metric tons of Mexican tomatoes were labeled greenhouse grown in 2007, but the percentage termed greenhouse tomatoes rose to 39% of 1.32 million metric tons of Mexican tomato imports by 2011, according to USDA trade statistics.
Aiming to eliminate misbranding greenhouse grown tomatoes and increase prices, a coalition that includes California tomato marketers is seeking a change in the state’s definition of a greenhouse tomato. The move could lead to a harmonized national definition that could eventually put in place new marketing order demands on Mexican tomatoes previously labeled as greenhouse grown.
Representatives of Certified Greenhouse Farmers, Ventura, Calif., took their case to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Oct. 9. They testified in favor of a proposed amendment to clarify existing codes and align with efforts at the federal level in the U.S. and Canada to establish a definition for hydroponic greenhouse produce.
The group advocated for this definition for the California code, according to the release:
“Tomatoes labeled with the term ‘greenhouse grown’ shall be considered mislabeled unless tomatoes are grown in a fully enclosed permanent aluminum or fixed-steel structure clad in glass or impermeable plastic using automated irrigation and climate control, including heating and ventilation capabilities, in an artificial medium that substitutes for soil using hydroponic methods.”
The previous definition, written in 2004, said “Tomatoes labeled with the term “greenhouse grown” shall be considered mislabeled unless tomatoes are grown in a fixed steel structure using irrigation and climate control, in an artificial medium that substitutes for soil.”
One industry leader who testified at the hearing said the definition should help lead to a harmonized U.S. definition.