Sunday, 18 Jan, 2009 Offbeat
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A Good Name is All Tequila Has

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Researchers found that a geographical indication that officially links products such as champagne and tequila to their place of origin does not offer a lot of help to the region it is expected to protect.

According to Sarah Bowen of North Carolina State University in Raleigh and her team, tying the production of tequila to the Jalisco region in Mexico, has had a negative influence on its production, the drink being socially and ecologically untenable.

The Mexican alcoholic drink is distilled from a plant called the blue agave. The Mexican law states that tequila can only be made in the Jalisco region and parts of other 4 states of Mexico. Such distinction is known as "geographical indication" - it transmits the geographical origin and the cultural a historical heritage of a certain product.

It takes 6 years for the blue agave plant to mature, which leads to an unbalanced local supply. Because of this and due to the fact that there has been a huge increase in demand for tequila in the period between 1990s and 2005, a lot of liquor companies started growing their own agave near Jalisco. But the problem here is that these firms grow the plant in regions that were not previously used for agave cultivation. This led to loss of established farming practices. Farmers today use an increased amount of pesticides and other chemicals for growing the blue agave.

"Many of these changes are marginalizing independent agave farmers and workers undermining the social foundation of the region that relies on the agave and tequila industries", says Bowen.

In addition, the research shows that the standards, set for the making of tequila, do not have a great influence on preserving the traditional methods of production of the alcoholic drink. Thus the social and environmental resources in the area, where tequila has been made for over four centuries, is under threat, informs the official website of the North Carolina State University.

Bowen outlined that the own growth of the agave has led to "environmental degradation and the elimination of traditional practices". Tequila represents the first GI granted alcoholic drink outside Europe. According to Bowen the drink should be a lesson to a lot of other poor countries.

"The specification of sustainable production practices within [the GI] legal framework is essential," says the researcher.

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