The United States has suspended avocado imports from the western Mexican state of Michoacan after a U.S. official received a threat, Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry said in a statement Saturday.
According to the statement, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) decided to suspend until further notice the inspection activities of the avocado in Michoacán after one of its officials, who was working in Uruapan, Michoacán, received a threatening call to his official cell phone.
APHIS reported that an investigation is currently underway to assess the threat and determine the necessary measures to guarantee the physical integrity of all its personnel working in Michoacán. A meeting was held between APHIS staff and representatives of the Association of Avocado Producers and Packers Exporters of Mexico (APEAM) with local and state police to discuss the issue. Michoacán is the only state in Mexico authorized to export avocados to the United States.
Because the U.S. also grows avocados, its inspectors work in Mexico to ensure that exported avocados do not carry diseases that could damage crops in the United States. It wasn’t until 1997 that the U.S. lifted a ban on Mexican avocados in place since 1914 to prevent a variety of weevils, crusts, and pests from entering U.S. orchards. The inspectors work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
It’s not the first time violence in Michoacan — where the Jalisco cartel is waging turf wars against local gangs known as Cartels Unidos — has threatened avocados, the state’s most lucrative crop.ADVERTISING
After an incident in 2019, the USDA had warned of the possible consequences of attacking or threatening its inspectors. In August of that year, a team of U.S. inspectors was “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a town west of Uruapan, the most important city in the Michoacan avocado region. While the agency did not specify what happened, local authorities said a criminal group assaulted the truck in which the inspectors were traveling at gunpoint.
Michoacan’s avocado growers say drug trafficking groups threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay money for protection, which sometimes amounts to thousands of dollars per acre.
Reactions in Mexico
“APEAM is actively participating in coordination with the authorities of both countries to solve the problem in the process of strengthening the internal practices and processes that guarantee the traceability of the fruit. “The facts mentioned here have already been recidivism with the consequent economic impact of the entire program, affecting the industry and the more than 300,000 jobs that depend on it.
“We urge all those actors in this value chain to take extreme care and vigilance to preserve such an important export program,” APEAM said in a statement to the media. Following protocols, U.S. health agency personnel inspect the avocados that would be shipped and, once approved, the avocados are transferred to the packaging process, the Ministry of Agriculture said.
In the last six weeks, Michoacan avocado producers have exported more than 135,000 tons of avocado to the U.S., the Ministry of Agriculture said. Michoacan’s geographical position in the Pacific Ocean has made it a turf war between criminal organizations fighting for territory and profits from other industries such as avocado.