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US temporarily bans avocados from Mexico, citing threat

Whether slathered on toast, added to a salad, or topping a burrito, avocado has become a staple in the diets of many Americans.

But the creamy fruit might get harder to find. The United States decided late last week to temporarily block all imports of avocados from Mexico after a verbal threat was made against American security inspectors working in the country.

The suspension “will remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure appropriate steps are taken, to ensure the safety of APHIS personnel working in Mexico,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement, making reference to animal and plant health inspection. A service.

In the United States, where 80% of the avocados consumed come from Mexico and where the average price of $1.43 per avocado was already nearly 11% higher than a year ago, analysts said that even a two-week ban could significantly reduce availability and further increase prices. .

The decision is a blow to the western state of Michoacán in Mexico, the only region in Mexico authorized to send lawyers to the United States. There, the green fruit is big business, with annual exports totaling nearly $3 billion. Most of these lawyers go to the United States.

Although details of the threat to agency employees have not been made public, the avocado industry has attracted interest over the past decade from the region’s drug cartels, which are become more fragmented and sought ways to diversify their sources of illicit revenue.

“10 years ago I had an interview with a cartel boss who was bragging about how much money he was making from lawyers,” said Falko Ernst, a Mexican analyst with the International Crisis Group for the purpose of non-profit. “You have a concentration of economic wealth in the area, and the ability to siphon off some of that has acted as a magnet for these groups.”

Mexican gangs are also accused of limit lime production and shipments to drive up prices.

In a statement, the Association of Producer-Exporters and Packers of Avocados of Mexico, which represents 29,000 avocado growers and 65 packing plants, said its board of directors had met to review plans and security protocols in order to continue to collaborate with the Mexican and American authorities and resume the export as soon as possible.

The US ban came during one of the lawyer’s biggest events, the Super Bowl. And depending on how long it lasts, it could affect one of the industry’s other big days, Cinco de Mayo.

In 1997, the United States began lifting a longstanding ban on Mexican avocados after weevils, scabs and other pests entered American orchards from imported produce.

Today, U.S. inspectors in Mexico play a crucial role in the expansion of the Mexican avocado market as they monitor every step of the process – from orchards to transportation systems to shipping areas – to ensure ensuring fruit imported into the United States is pest-free, said David Orden, a professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

“It was a great story about how a group of agribusinesses and farmers used science-based methods to reduce pest risk and enable trade where there would normally be no opportunity,” Mr. Orden said. “It was a great story until the drug cartels got involved.”

California, which supplies about 15% of the US avocado market, simply cannot produce enough to meet the demand of consumers who snack on chips and guacamole and put avocados in smoothies. Annual per capita consumption of avocados has risen to nine pounds, from four pounds in 2010, and could exceed 11 pounds within the next five years, according to RaboResearch analysts.

The avocado industry has long benefited from clever marketing campaigns. In the 1980’s, announcements from the California Avocado Commission showed actress Angie Dickinson in a white leotard, stretching her legs endlessly, eating and touting the diet and health benefits of avocado. “Is this body lying to you? she cooed.

But the big marketing push came during the Super Bowl. Avocados From Mexico began airing original commercials over the past decade, including one featuring comedian Jon Lovitz floating head and another with 1980s actress Molly Ringwald as an infomercial host peddling expensive gear for your lawyer, like a personal transporter or a yurt.

On Sunday, Avocados From Mexico aired its final ad during the game. It featured ancient Roman hookers at the Colosseum eating guacamole and dancing. Online reviews were mixed.

Avocado growers in the Michoacán region said even a ban of a few months could have a huge negative impact on the local economy.

“The growing season basically ends in May, and if we lose a few months selling, we’ll end up with too much fruit to sell in two months,” said Jose Humberto Solorzano Mendoza, a third-generation avocado grower who created a digital platform for producers to share price information to improve transparency. “The product will be worthless and it will fall from the trees after May.”

And a price crash, he said, could lead to increased immigration from the region to the United States. “There are people living here because of the avocado,” he said. “They live off of it. If we don’t have the lawyer, they’ll move on.

Mr Ernst of the International Crisis Group said that if the “warning shot” of a temporary ban turns into something longer-term, it would hurt the economy and make it easier for criminal enterprises to attract money. recruits.

“You have tens of thousands of hard-working, law-abiding families that depend on this industry,” Ernst said. “If you take away their livelihoods, you play into the hands of criminal groups.”