U.S. Suspends Avocado Imports from Mexico

An inspector at a U.S. plant in Michoacan reportedly received a threatening message on his phone, sparking the temporary hold.

Avocados from Mexico
Photo: Thai Yuan Lim / EyeEm / Getty Images

During the first quarter of last night's Super Bowl, Avocados from Mexico ran a commercial that featured "the worst tailgate" one toga-wearing Roman had ever been to. A group of Romans eyeballed the Barbarians who were misbehaving in the parking lot outside the Colosseum until a guy making guac and slicing avocados caught their attention. Spoiler alert: The green fruit ends up bringing the two opposing sides together because of course it does.

But by the time that spot aired, imports of all Mexican avocados into the United States had been suspended "until further notice," after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico was threatened. "U.S. 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," Mexico's Department of Agriculture said in a statement first reported by the Associated Press.

The U.S. government confirmed the temporary suspension. "[F]acilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the U.S. and guaranteeing the safety of our agricultural inspection personnel go hand in hand," the U.S. Embassy wrote, according to the AP. "We are working with the Mexican government to guarantee security conditions that would allow our personnel in Michoacan to resume operations."

The southwestern state of Michoacan is the only Mexican state that is fully authorized to export avocados to the U.S. But drug cartels have infiltrated the avocado trade in Michoacan and their involvement can range from extorting farmers and demanding payment for every avocado shipment that is shipped out; to stealing avocado trucks and fighting over lucrative avocado-growing territory; to horrifying multiple murders.

"There are at least 20 illegal armed groups violently competing for territories and markets in the state," Falko Ernst of the International Crisis Group told the Guardian in 2019. "Yet not a single actor has been able to establish dominion over the others. This means war has become perpetual and extremely costly [...] The avocado sector, a billion-dollar industry, after all, is too attractive [for armed groups] to pass up on, and producers and exporters are bearing some of the cost."

This isn't the first time that a U.S. inspector has been physically threatened. The Associated Press reports that in August 2019, a team of inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was robbed at gunpoint in Ziracuaretiro, a town in Michoacan.

"For future situations that result in a security breach, or demonstrate an imminent physical threat to the well-being of [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities," the USDA wrote at the time.

According to Reuters, Michoacan's governor Alfredo Ramirez has agreed to meet with U.S. officials and hopes that shipments to the U.S. will soon resume.

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