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Tequila and Ecology

By: Ruben Moreno Pesqueira

In order to process Tequila in the zones of denomination of origin, there are approximately 67 distilling plants authorized by the Tequila Regulatory Council (C.R.T.). There are 10 to 12 big plants, 25 medium size plants, and 30 to 32 small and micro plants.

Forty out of those 67 plants operate with continuous production, and about 13 to 15 of the micro and small plants operate on special occasions or by batch productions.

Most of the distillers up to today, dispose of the residual waters of the distilling products, without processing them according to the Official Mexican Norm (NOM), NOM-001-ECOL-1996, which expired on January 1st 2000.

The responsibility to watch this Norm belongs to the SEMARNAP, co-working with the National Water Comity (C.A.N.) as well as the state authorities and municipal jurisdictions.

The disposal of residual water is very aggressive. It is done in an open environment, without any treatment, just letting the water flow into the rivers and soil, damaging and polluting the environment as it reaches lower lands.

That water could still be used on industrial boilers, floor cleaning, even spread on some fields, or it could be disposed of according to the Norm.


Why are those plants not disposing of the water according to the Norm?

Maybe because they need a lot of resources to build and operate water treatment plants that require a lot of investment and extra operational costs, which would need to be prorated in a medium or long term basis.

One of the problems is that the general criteria focuses on recuperating the investments as soon as possible and avoid the medium term or long term amortized costs.

Another problem is that many distilling plants have switched owners in the last couple of years, and they have a greater participation from transnational investors, who have inherited the investment problem regarding the water treatment plants.

Also in early 1999, the Tequila industry was affected by the 60% increment on the Tax for Special Products (IEPS). That tax is only applied to the tequila made for national demand, and it is not applicable for exportations. The tax caused the tequila to increase it's exportations but the liquid was the only part exported, and then was bottled and labeled with brands from abroad. That caused the pine of the agave plant to increase it's price 1,500% in only one year.

There are distillers with a conscience, aware of the ethical issues and the harm that they are doing. Some of them have the resources for the investment required for water treatment plants without diminishing their resources for operation and productions

For distillers who don't have the available resources right now, there are financial solutions, such as receiving credit from a foreign bank that has funds for special environmental improvements. Those who have the support of institutions like Nafin and Banobras can finance up to 100% of the required investment with payment periods up to 15 years.


Then what's missing?

The sum of will and responsibility. On the one hand are the authorities, and on the other hand are the Tequila Industries.

Those accomplishments cannot be left behind; besides the damage to the environment there are important national and international treaties, emphasizing the Brussels treaty.

There are many changes needed in Mexico but the most important change needed is the attitude.

The residual waters from the distillers are dangerous and we have to start treating them now.


We have to start now.

Should we wait for something else?

Is there another alternative proposal?


Rubén Moreno Pesqueira

Member of the Mexican Tequila Academy

Academia Mexicana del Tequila, A.C.

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