The U.S. government suspended all imports of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after a U.S. plant safety inspector–who works for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services in Mexico– received a threatening message according to Mexico’s Agriculture Department.
“US health authorities…made the decision after one of their officials, who was carrying out inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, received a threatening message on his official cellphone,” the department wrote.
🔹Mexico is the largest avocado producer in the world.
🔹80 percent of their supplies are imported by the United States.
🔹The country produces three varieties of avocado, the most traded tropical fruit in the world, with Hass accounting for 97 percent of total production.
🔹While avocados are grown in many Mexican states, only those grown in Michoacán have phytosanitary approvals to export to the US.
🔹Fresh Mexican Hass avocados from Michoacán cross the border duty-free.
🔹The industry is worth almost $3 billion in annual exports.
The U.S. Embassy wrote that “facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the U.S. and guaranteeing the safety of our agricultural inspection personnel go hand in hand.”
“We are working with the Mexican government to guarantee security conditions that would allow our personnel in Michoacan to resume operations.”
Because the United States also grows avocados, U.S. inspectors work in Mexico to ensure exported avocados don’t carry diseases that could harm U.S. crops.
It was only in 1997 that the U.S. lifted a ban on Mexican avocados that had been in place since 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering U.S. orchards.
There has been repeated violence in Michoacan — where the Jalisco cartel is fighting turf wars against a collection of local gangs known as the United Cartels — that threatens avocados, the state’s most lucrative crop.
After a prior incident in 2019, the USDA had warned about the possible consequences of attacking or threatening U.S. inspectors.
In August 2019, a U.S. Department of Agriculture team of inspectors was “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a town just west of Uruapan. While the agency didn’t specify what happened, local authorities say a gang robbed the truck the inspectors were traveling in at gunpoint.
The USDA wrote in a letter at the time that, “For future situations that result in a security breach, or demonstrate an imminent physical threat to the well-being of APHIS personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities.”
Many avocado growers in Michoacan say drug gangs threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay protection money, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars per acre.
On September 30, 2020, a Mexican employee of APHIS was killed near the northern border city of Tijuana.
Mexican prosecutors said Edgar Flores Santos was killed by drug traffickers who may have mistaken him for a policeman and a suspect was arrested. The U.S. State Department said investigations “concluded this unfortunate incident was a case of Mr. Flores being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”