21 October 2005

The great liquor scam


Be wary of establishments that serve liquor from unlabeled bottles.

 Story by : David Agren

Investigators from Mexico's consumer protection agency (Profeco) fanned out across the Republic in the lead up to the Fiestas Patrias celebrations in September, searching for illegal liquor, which in many cases is sold to consumers as something other than what it really is.

The agency found 30 percent of the alcoholic beverages it purchased were either adulterated products or drinks not conforming with federal regulations. In many cases, unscrupulous bars and vendors passed off cane alcohol or aguardiente de agave (distilled agave drinks) as tequila in violation of the famed drink's appellation of origin regulations, which mandate that only beverages made from blue agave in five states can bear the tequila name.

"When a bottle is shown on a supermarket display or is exhibited in a bar or restaurant, normally we haven't found any problems with adulteration," said Jose Rodrigo Roque, a deputy prosecutor with Profeco in Mexico City.

Problems appear, however, when the customer either can't see the bottles or when purchasing a beverage that lacks a proper label. Illicit beverages, according to Profeco, are served most often in night clubs, places offering barra libre promotions (unlimited national drinks for a fixed price) and all-inclusive resorts, which often cater to foreign tourists.

"There we feel we have a problem because you don't really know if it's an authentic product," Roque explained.

Compounding the problem, some bars fill used bottles, which have a label, with an adulterated product. The Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) has initiated a program that collects old bottles for destruction, in an effort to curb the practice.
Besides selling illegal liquor in nightclubs and resorts, roadside vendors near tequila-producing town's hawk knock-off beverages in garafonitos (little jugs) for cheap prices.

"The alcohol they normally sell isn't dangerous, but we say it shouldn't be consumed," Roque explained. "It's an alcohol that is normally sold for chemical or pharmaceutical purposes. Additionally, its quality is extremely poor."

Bertha Becerra, spokeswoman for the Guadalajara-based CRT, said in many instances, the roadside vendors bottle cane alcohol, but call it tequila.

"If there's not a proper label, it's not tequila," she said, adding the CRT lists all of its approved brands on its Web site. "In this sense, it's nothing more than consumer deception."

A three-day Profeco sweep in eight Jalisco municipalities turned up 65 unregistered liquor brands, resulting in 28,691 liters of booze being discarded. It also discovered 35 brands that improperly used the tequila name. Roque said Profeco has pressed charges in 80 percent of the cases where it found illicit liquor sales or misuse of the tequila name. The CRT authorizes distillers to produce and market tequila beverages and makes the rules for its production.

From the Guadalajara Colony Reporter.

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