SANTA FE - Chile peppers are to New Mexico what oranges are to Florida, apples are to Washington and peanuts are to Virginia: a defining source of chest-thumping pride. It is also the state's official vegetable and the reason for such thing as the state's official question - "Red or green?"
Chile peppers are a crop under assault, though - from foreign competitors like Mexico, where harvesting could cost less than one-third of what it costs in New Mexico. Meanwhile, prolific growers in California surpassed the state years ago in the quantity of chile peppers harvested from its fields to become the nation's No. 1 producer, according to statistics from the federal Agriculture Department.
Farmers have also been facing a vexing challenge on the ground: keeping chile grown outside New Mexico from being sold as homegrown, a deceptive practice that is common and hard to detect.
Charlie Marquez, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Chile Association, described the situation as "disturbing." State Representative Rodolpho S. Martinez, a Democrat whose district encompasses the heart of chile country, stared ahead, rubbed his knuckles and called it an "outrage."
Last month, Mr. Martinez introduced a bill to add some teeth to a 2011 law that everyone had hoped would safeguard the status of New Mexico's chiles, but has fallen short. The new bill aims to force out-of-state chile peppers, in their natural and processed forms, to display on their package an unusual disclaimer: "not grown in New Mexico."
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