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U.S. halts avocado imports from Mexico after inspectors caught up in violence

Stephania Corpi/TPR
Stephania Corpi
Texas Public Radio
Stephania Corpi/TPR

The United States Department of Agriculture announced this week a halt in the inspection of avocados and mangoes imported from the Mexican state of Michoacán — the world largest producer and a violence-plagued state.

The USDA has not provided a timeline for when inspections might resume, stating that “the programs will remain paused until the security situation is reviewed, and protocols and safeguards are in place for personnel.”

The decision came after two of its employees were “recently attacked and detained while carrying out their work in the state of Michoacán inspecting avocados,” U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar said.

The specifics of the incident remain unclear, but Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla explained to local reporters that the situation began during a protest in Paracho last Friday when two inspectors got caught in the middle of an altercation. The governor emphasized they were never in danger or detained and were soon on their way.

The USDA’s move could eventually result in higher prices for consumers as the flow of avocados from Mexico to the U.S. will slow in the days ahead. The U.S. imported a record 2.78 billion pounds of the fruit in 2023 where 89% of the imports came from Mexico.

The pause also raised concerns about potential shortages and price increases for these popular fruits — especially avocados, which have become a staple in the diet of many Americans. And in Mexico, both products will have to be delivered for national consumption.

Ismael Escobar, a farmer and avocado producer, told TPR that he will try to hold the avocado harvest.

“If I cut them now, they will be sold for half the price,” Escobar said, adding that the USDA pause will add to difficulties producers have been experiencing due to the drought. “It has not rained. Only last night we got the first showers,” he said.

Amidst the issues of violence prompting the halting of exports from Mexico, farmers in Michoacan have also been struggling with water shortages.

Many farmers “have been forced to sell to the national market,” said a local woman from Michoacan who works at the Association of Producers and Export Packers of Mexico. "It used to be easier. Now finding water, even for human consumption, is an odyssey,” she added.

The rainy season that used to start in mid-May continues to be delayed while small producers have a hard time paying the extortion fees gangs are demanding.

This is not the first time the U.S. has halted imports from Michoacan; in 2020 and 2022 farmers received threats, and an armed group also burned avocado shipments.

The $3 billion avocado industry has been a prime target for cartels for the past decade. Extortions are a main part of the business for criminal gangs who are battling for control of every single aspect of the avocado trade, from farmers to packers and drivers to U.S. inspectors.