Over the weekend, the US government suspended all imports of Mexican avocados “until further notice.” The news came late Saturday, on the eve of the Super Bowl, one of the biggest sale opportunities of the year for Mexican avocado growers (perhaps you caught the Avocados from Mexico commercial last night?), who have taken out the pricey ads for nearly a decade in an attempt to associate guacamole with the big game.
The decision was made after an American inspector, who works for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, received a threat, according to Mexico’s department of agriculture. “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, of which 80 percent of 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.
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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.
This is not the first time that violence in Michoacán, where the Jalisco cartel is fighting turf wars against a collection of local gangs, has threatened the country’s avocado business. In August 2019, a USDA team of inspectors was “directly threatened,” and while the agency did not clarify what happened, local authorities reported a gang robbed the truck in which the inspectors were traveling at gunpoint. “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,” the USDA wrote at that time.
The USDA has not confirmed the Mexico avocado ban, but it seems to be upholding its past promise to take immediate action should illegal activities happen again.
This weekend’s ban likely didn’t affect avocado sales for Sunday’s big game, as any avocados intended to be consumed for the Super Bowl were imported weeks ago. But the decision could have lasting consequences for Mexico’s most lucrative crop.