MEXICAN TOMATO ISSUE
A MATTER OF DISPUTEIn response to Aaron Lukas' guest opinion on March 2, under the headline ''Consumers see red(tomatoes)'' that appeared on Page 7A, I would like to address a number of erroneous statements made by him.
Mr. Lukas refers to Rep. David Bonior's tour through farm country. I organized the farm rally in Quincy, Fla., so that Mr. Bonior and other members of Congress traveling with him could see firsthand the devastation caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement and by other misguided trade policies that have crippled an efficient American agricultural industry.
At the rally, Mr. Bonior was able to talk to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation farmers struggling to survive against unfair, and sometimes illegal, trade practices by Mexican producers. As Mr. Bonior and others stood in my packinghouse, they could see all around them the empty buildings of those that have gone out of business since 1994. Dozens of farm workers also attended the rally.
Mr. Lukas also paints a trade scenario about Mexican tomato production that is simply not true. While fertile Mexican soil may be as good as U.S. soil for vegetable production, growing practices leave a lot to be desired.
Mexican producers import Oxacan Indians as migrant workers to harvest their crops. Over 10 percent of this work force is made up of children under 10 years old. This is something that the American consumer will never accept.
These workers live in tar paper shacks and other unfit housing for up to five months of the year while they harvest these crops without government oversight or regulation.
Documented evidence by CBS' ''Public Eye,'' among others, has found the use of contaminated sewage water and the use of banned and illegal pesticides to be common practice by Mexican producers in Sinaloa and Baja.
Of course, the American consumer is unaware of this since Mexican business interests oppose ''country of origin'' labeling, which would allow the ultimate purchaser to make an informed choice.
The writer refers to the Consumers for World Trade statement about taste and shelf life of Mexican tomatoes. I ask Mr. Lukas, how would the consumer know they are from Mexico? They are not labeled. Most likely, the CWT opinion was influenced by a financial contribution from Mexican interests, as is often the case with think tanks and other nonprofit organizations.
As for Mr. Lukas' reference to the dumping case, these are the facts. Florida growers brought in anti-dumping action against Mexican tomato growers in 1996.
After months of investigation, the U.S. Commerce Department found preliminary dumping margins of 17 percent. Under present dumping statutes, this would have meant that Mexican importers would have to post over $60 million in bonds until the final disposition of the case.
The Department of Commerce and the Mexican producers entered into an agreement, known as a suspension agreement, wherein the Mexicans agreed not to sell tomatoes in the United States at less than 20.6 cents per pound.
Florida producers were not part of this agreement and Commerce did not broker a deal, as stated by Mr. Lukas. Commerce was following the letter of the law. In fact, this was not what American farmers wanted, but it was thrust upon us by not having enough funds to continue the fight. The floor price of 20.6 cents is hardly a factor in the retail price, which often exceeds $1.90 per pound.
R. Jay Taylor
Taylor and Fulton Inc.