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Methanol can cause blindness: Is it present in Mezcal?

Methanol can cause blindness: Is it present in Mezcal? 150 150 Cynthia Ruiz Villalobos

Much has been said about Mezcal containing methanol, but do we really know what methanol is and how toxic it can be? You have probably wondered whether the mezcal you’re drinking contains methanol. I will try to answer these questions in the simplest way possible.

What is methanol? 

Methanol is an alcohol very similar to ethanol, yet methanol is far more toxic, as it is not easily eliminated by our body. Depending on the amount ingested, methanol can cause drunkenness, blindness, or even death.

Interestingly, mild cases of methanol intoxication are usually treated by administering pure ethanol. This treatment facilitates the body’s elimination of methanol as ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol compete for an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. However, dialysis is the best treatment for severe cases. 

What is ethanol? 

Ethanol is responsible for the happy, tingling feeling when we drink alcohol. Ethanol is a volatile, colorless liquid present in several fermented beverages with concentrations of 5%  to 20%, as in the case of beer and wine. In distilled beverages, it increases up to 40% as in tequila, whiskey, vodka, rum, or gin. 

What happens when we consume ethanol and methanol? 

The body can only metabolize 10 to 15 ml of ethanol per hour; higher concentrations are considered lethal. A blood alcohol level between 0.02 and 0.06% is considered low, while 0.50% ( equivalent to 5g of alcohol per liter of blood) is considered lethal. The liver is responsible for breaking down and eliminating alcohol, processing eight grams an hour.  That’s half a glass of wine or half a bottle of pilsner beer.

Methanol is the simplest of all alcohols. When metabolized, it may cause blindness, irreversibly destroying the optic nerve. A dose higher than 30 ml may cause death.    

Why do alcoholic beverages contain methanol? 

During the fermentation process of converting sugary juices to alcohol, ethanol, variable amounts of methanol, and other volatile compounds are produced.

Ancestral distillation of mezcal in clay pot | Picture GMS


Ancestral distillation of mezcal in clay pot | Picture GMS

The case of Mezcal

Methanol is produced due to the demethylation by pectines (polysaccharides) present in agave, and by the effect of high temperatures and acidic pH.  At the beginning of fermentation, over 50% of the methanol is exclusively present in the wort ( mashed agave heart), which demonstrates that a fraction of methanol is produced during the cooking process. (Téllez, 1998) The rest is formed during fermentation due to the action of microorganisms with pectinolytic activity, which hydrolyzes pectines and produces methanol. (Cedeño, 1995) However, an efficient distillation process removes the majority of  methanol , so it is no longer toxic. 

In distilled alcoholic beverages such as mezcal the ethanol content  increases, while other alcohols, such as methanol, decrease. According to the Official Mexican Norm NOM-070-SCFI-2016 (Alcoholic Beverages-Mezcal-Specifications), the permissible limit of methanol is 300 mg per 100ml of alcohol. 

Is it dangerous to drink uncertified mezcal? 

Mezcal has been produced for centuries, and has not been fully documented because of the vast variety of production methods that exist; every mezcal master has a unique signature style. Producers are usually not familiar with the guidelines of the official mexican norm. However, mezcal masters have techniques which produce  high proof alcohol (48% to 55% or 96-110 proof) that does not exceed the permitted methanol limit. Out of the dozens of ancestrally produced mezcals that have been analyzed, only three have presented concentrations of 10 points above the permitted levels, which still does not exceed the limits of harmful toxicity. In the case of artisanal mezcal, the average methanol content is 150mg per 100 ml ( 3.38 fl.oz) of alcohol. 

It is our responsibility as consumers to be familiar with the mezcal we drink. It is worth looking into the producer, their process, and place of origin. Legal parameters guarantee a 100% safe product, so look for a bottle that  has a sticker issued by the “SAT” (Mexican Internal Revenue Service) and a hologram from the CRM (National Chamber of Mezcal.)  561 brands have been certified by the CRM. However, although there are at least 750 mezcal producers that lack the economic resources to obtain certification in Oaxaca, uncertified mezcals are not adulterated, as it is commonly believed. Visiting factories, buying mezcal directly from producers, and supporting projects that foster collaboration with them, will make us mindful consumers. 

NOM 199 CANCELLED?

NOM 199 CANCELLED? 150 150 Cynthia Ruiz Villalobos

NOM 199 CANCELLED?

On Thursday, February 25, we were surprised by the news of the publication in the Official Journal of the Mexican Federation of a document announcing the cancellation of NOM 199 (Mexican Official Standard NOM-199-SCFI-2017, Alcoholic beverages-Denomination, physicochemical specifications, commercial information and test methods), which caused a lot of confusion and commotion. But what is NOM 199? Why does it affect distilled beverage producers? Why does it concern the mezcal industry?

According to the Official Journal of the Federation: The purpose of this Mexican Official Standard is to establish the denomination, physicochemical specifications and commercial information that all alcoholic beverages must comply with, in order to provide truthful information to the consumer, as well as the test and conformity assessment methods applicable to them.

https://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5502882&fecha=30/10/2017#:~:text=This%20Mexican%20Official%20Standard%20has%20the%20objective%20of%20establishing%20denomination%20,%20conformity%20applicable%20to%20the%20alcoholic%20beverages%20and%20to%20the%20alcoholic beverages%20to%20the%20alcoholic%20beverages%20.

This Standard is mandatory and applies to the entire national territory. It establishes the sanitary specifications and provisions for the sanitary and commercial labeling of alcoholic beverages marketed in the national territory. Likewise, it applies to individuals or legal entities engaged in the processing or importation of alcoholic beverages.

In other words, this rule was created to regulate beverages outside the existing appellations of origin (Mezcal, Tequila, Charanda, Bacanora, Sotol and Racilla, even though the latter does not have a standard, but that is another topic that we will address in another article), since there are beverages produced inside and outside these regions with appellation of origin that do not have standards that regulate them or guarantee their quality control. Some examples of beverages that it intends to regulate areGin, whiskey, cane spirits, creams of agave or cane distillates and other liquors that want to give certainty to the consumer and under this standard are obliged to meet certain requirements, among them the always «always» mandatory NOM 142 (NORMA OficialMexicana NOM-142-SSA1/SCFI-2014, Bebidas alcohólicas. Sanitary specifications. Sanitary and commercial labeling.), which is alsoinserted in NOM 070 (Standard regulating the Appellation of origin ofmezcal); therefore, NOM 142 is not new and can be consulted at https://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5386313&fecha=23/03/2015. This standard regulates all alcoholic beverages, with or without Denomination of Origin.

This NOM 142 basically regulates some physicochemical parameters that distilled and fermented beverages must comply with, as well as regulations about pre-cautionary legends such as the famous legend: «ABUSE OF THIS PRODUCT IS HARMFUL TO HEALTH», as well as the 3 prohibition symbols (attached in the image): the circle where a pregnant woman appears drinking, the symbol indicating that you should not drive if you drink and the symbol indicating that it is forbidden to people under 18 years of age. I insist, this rule has always been in force for alcoholic beverages and the communique issued, mentions a modification project, but nothing concrete for the moment, therefore, it continues to apply as it is.With this draft cancellation of the standard (and I emphasize «draft» because it is not an immediate fact), the only thing that happens is that the beverages that were trying to be regulated under this standard to give greater certainty to the consumer will no longer be able to do so, which leaves us again in a regulatory limbo; that is, now only by complying with the payment of taxes before the SAT in Mexico (being registered in the Alcoholic Beverages Register and having labels) can be sold domestically, only with names different from those marked in the DO. In the same way, in order to export, you only have to pay the taxes to enter the country, not use any name or indicative that makes reference to a previously established appellation of origin and comply with the administrative documentation; in this way, even without having physicochemical analyses that guarantee the innocuousness of the product, without knowing the origin of the raw material, and without knowing the number of liters per batch of the distillates, you can sell and export.

According to some reliable sources that enforced this regulation, it will not be cancelled overnight; there is still a process of debate and there must be a process to stop the cancellation project. Although it is true that it is already in the official gazette, the promoters of this standard assure that it is not definitive; therefore they will be able to continue certifying and granting holograms that indicate that the products comply with this standard as well as with NOM 142 mentioned above.

Another important point is that the NOM 199 normative parameters are the same as those of NOM 070; the only extra parameter evaluated by Standard 199 are esters; parameters that for you and for the producers have been a headache since the products sometimes comply with all the parameters except «this-res»; that is to say, they could comply with NOM 070. In order to comply with the parameters, certain modifications must be made that alter the sensory profile of the product; however, this also happens in the 070 standard, the higher the grade of the product (traditional and peasant Mezcal 45 to 55 % Alc. Vol.), the more difficult it is to pass the physicochemical parameters; therefore, it is necessary to make mixtures between batches, homogenize with glues, lower the grade with distilled water and other practices that are commonly used to comply with the standards (NOM 070 and in this case NOM 199) since, I repeat, the parameters are the same.

PARAMETERS TO BE COMPLIED WITH IN NOM 199

PARAMETERS TO BE COMPLIED WITH IN NOM 070

The conclusion of all this for you is that if you are not in an area with Denomination of Origin, as long as you are registered in the IMPI (with a trademark registration in class 33) and in the SAT (with Alcoholic Beverages Register, Marbetes and Exporters Register) you can market any beverage; a practice that is common among traders who export without any restriction and who do not inform the consumer of the origin of the products since there are no rules to regulate this activity. However, my recommendation is that producers and marketers, as the case may be, keep track of the batches produced and marketed and go to a laboratory to analyze them so that they have a guarantee that the production is safe for the consumer.

PROHIBITIONS NOM 142

As I already mentioned, NOM 199 is only valid in Mexico, it does issue compliance holograms but in Mexico, for other countries it is not valid (and this is a point for the rules governing Appellations of Origin, since they do have international validity due to the Lisbon Treaty). Having said that, in the case of exports, it is only necessary to have a certificate of origin, invoice documentation, export declaration and other administrative documents, as well as to pay the taxes for entry into the country and not to make any allusion between labels about any existing appellation of origin.

I can say that in my opinion, this cancellation project, in case it is applied, leaves the consumer unprotected (at the expense of consuming products without traceability) and the producers without weapons to defend the quality of their product, so I recommend that they have internal controls.

And to close, I will quote the words of Sosima Olivera of the 3 Colibrí Cooperative: «Therein lies the problem, now, what alternatives are there for traditional and peasant mezcals , consumer the decision isyours

¿NOM 199 CANCELADA?

¿NOM 199 CANCELADA? 150 150 Cynthia Ruiz Villalobos

¿NOM 199 CANCELADA?

El día jueves 25 de febrero nos sorprendió la noticia de la publicación en el Diario Oficial de la Federación Mexicano un documento donde se anuncia la cancelación de la NOM 199 (NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-199-SCFI-2017, Bebidas alcohólicas-Denominación, especificaciones fisicoquímicas, información comercial y métodos de prueba.), esto causó mucha confusión y a la vez revuelo. Pero, ¿Qué es la NOM 199? ¿Porqué afecta a los productores de bebidas destiladas? ¿Porqué concierte a la industria del mezcal?

De acuerdo al Diario Oficial de la Federación: Esta Norma Oficial Mexicana tiene por objeto establecer la denominación, las especificaciones fisicoquímicas y la información comercial que deben cumplir todas las bebidas alcohólicas, a efecto de dar información veraz al consumidor, así como los métodos de prueba y de evaluación de la conformidad aplicables a las mismas. https://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5502882&fecha=30/10/2017#:~:text=Esta%20Norma%20Oficial%20Mexicana%20tiene%20por%20objeto%20establecer%20la%20denominaci%C3%B3n,la%20conformidad%20aplicables%20a%20las

Esta Norma Mexicana es de carácter obligatorio y aplica a todo el territorio nacional. Prevé las especificaciones sanitarias y disposiciones de etiquetado sanitario y comercial de las bebidas alcohólicas que se comercialicen en el territorio nacional. De igual forma, aplica a las personas físicas o morales que se dedican al proceso o importación de bebidas alcohólicas. 

Es decir, esta Norma, nació para regular bebidas fuera de las Denominaciones de Origen existentes (Mezcal, Tequila, Charanda, Bacanora, Sotol y Racilla, aún cuando esta última no tiene Norma, pero eso es otro tema que abordaremos en otro artículo); dado que hay bebidas elaboradas dentro y fuera de estas regiones con denominación de origen y que no cuentan con normas que las regulen ni avalen su control de calidad.  Algunos ejemplos de bebidas que pretende regular son: Destilados de agave, Gin, whiskey, aguardientes de caña, cremas de destilados de agave o caña y otros licores que quieren dar certeza al consumidor de sus procesos e inocuidad y bajo esta norma se obligan a cumplir ciertos requerimientos, entre ellos la siempre “siempre” obligatoria NOM 142 (NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-142-SSA1/SCFI-2014, Bebidas alcohólicas. Especificaciones sanitarias. Etiquetado sanitario y comercial.),  la cual está insertada también en la NOM 070 (Norma que regula la Denominación de Origen Mezcal); por lo tanto, la NOM 142 no es nueva y la pueden consultar en https://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5386313&fecha=23/03/2015. Esta norma regula a todas las bebidas alcohólicas, con o sin Denominación de Origen.

Esta NOM 142 básicamente regula algunos parámetros fisicoquímicos que deben cumplir bebidas destiladas y fermentadas, así como normativas acerca de leyendas precautorias cómo la famosa leyenda: «EL ABUSO EN EL CONSUMO DE ESTE PRODUCTO ES NOCIVO PARA LA SALUD”; los 3 símbolos de prohibición (que se adjuntan en la imagen): El círculo donde aparece una mujer embarazada bebiendo, el símbolo que indica que no conduzcas si  bebes y el símbolo de prohibido a menores de 18 años. Insisto, esta norma siempre ha estado vigente para bebidas alcohólicas y el comunicado emitido, menciona un proyecto de modificación, pero nada concreto por el momento, por lo tanto, sigue aplicando tal cual.

Retomando, con este proyecto de cancelación de Norma (y resalto “proyecto” debido a que no es un hecho inmediato), lo único que sucede es que las bebidas que intentaban regularse bajo esta Norma para dar mayor certeza al consumidor ya no lo podrán hacer, lo cual nos deja nuevamente en un limbo normativo; es decir, ahora sólo con cumplir con el pago de impuestos ante el SAT en México (estar inscrito en el Padrón de Bebidas Alcohólicas y tener marbetes) se puede vender nacionalmente solo que con nombres diferentes a los marcados en las DO. De la misma forma para exportar, solamente se tiene que pagar los impuestos de entrada al país, no utilizar ningún nombre o indicativo que haga referencia alguna denominación de origen previamente establecida y cumplir con la documentación administrativa; de esta manera, aún sin contar con análisis fisicoquímicos que avalen la inocuidad del producto, sin saber la procedencia de la materia prima, y sin saber el número de litros por lote de los destilados, se puede vender y exportar.

De acuerdo algunas fuentes confiables qué hacían cumplir dicha norma; ésta no será cancelada de la noche a la mañana; aún se tiene que dar un proceso de debate y tiene que haber un proceso para detener el proyecto de cancelación. Si bien es cierto que ya está en el Diario Oficial, los promotores de esta Norma aseguran que no es definitivo; por lo tanto van a poder seguir certificando y otorgando hologramas que indiquen que los productos que cumplen con esta norma así como con la NOM 142 antes mencionada.

Otro punto importante es que los parámetros normativos de la NOM 199 son los mismos que los de la NOM 070; el único parámetro extra que evalúa la Norma 199 son ésteres; parámetros que para su servidora y para los productores han sido un dolor de cabeza dado que los productos en ocasiones cumplen con la todos los parámetros menos con “ésteres”; es decir, pudieran cumplir la NOM 070. Para lograr cumplir los parámetros hay que hacer ciertas modificaciones que alteran el perfil sensorial del producto; sin embargo esto también sucede en la norma 070,  entre más alto de grado sea el producto (Mezcal tradicional y campesino -45 a 55 % Alc. Vol-), más difícil es pasar los parámetros fisicoquímicos; por lo tanto hay que hacer mezclas entre lotes, homogeneizar con colas, bajar el grado con agua destilada y otras prácticas que comúnmente se realizan para entrar dentro de la normativa (NOM 070 y en este caso NOM 199) dado que repito, los parámetros son los mismos. 

PARÁMETROS A CUMPLIR EN LA NOM 199

La conclusión de todo esto para su servidora, es que si no estás en una zona con Denominación de Origen, mientras estés inscrito en el IMPI (Con un registro de marca en la clase 33) y en el SAT (Con Padrón de Bebidas Alcohólicas, Marbetes y Padrón de Exportadores) se puede comercializar cualquier bebida; práctica que es común en comercializadores y que exportan sin ninguna restricción y que no informan al consumidor de la procedencia de los productos dado que no hay normas para regular esta actividad. Sin embargo, mi recomendación es que los productores y comercializadores según sea el caso, lleven un control de los lotes producidos y comercializados y acudan a algún laboratorio a analizarlos para que tengan un respaldo de que la producción es inocua para el consumidor. 

PROHIBICIONES NOM 142

Como ya lo mencioné, la NOM 199 sólo es válida  en México, sí expide hologramas de cumplimiento pero en México, para otros países no tiene validez (y este es un punto para las normas que rigen las Denominaciones de Origen, dado que ellas si tienen validez internacional debido al Tratado de Lisboa). Dicho esto y retomando, para el caso de exportación pues sólo es necesario que se tenga un Certificado de Origen, documentación factura, pedimento y otros documentos administrativos así como pagar los impuestos de entrada al país y no hacer alusión entre etiqueta acerca de ninguna Denominación de Origen existente.

Puedo decir que, en mi opinión, este proyecto de cancelación en dado caso de que aplique, deja desprotegido al consumidor (a expensas de consumir productos sin trazabilidad) y a los productores sin armas para defender la calidad de su producto, por lo que recomiendo que lleven controles internos.

Y para cerrar citaré las palabras de la maestra Sosima Olivera de la Cooperativa 3 Colibrí: Ahí esta el problema, ahora, ¿Qué alternativas hay para los mezcales tradicionales campesinos?… Consumidor, tú tienes la respuesta.