The U.S. just hit pause on avocado trade with Mexico, shutting down a $3 billion industry

If you were watching the Super Bowl last night, you may have caught a commercial for Avocados from Mexico, the marketing arm of business organizations that represent U.S. importers of avocados from Mexico.

At a cost of $7 million per 30-seconds of airtime, the spot implored viewers to use avocados from Mexico at tailgate parties because “they’re always good.”

Always good, perhaps, but not always available. On Super Bowl eve, arguably guacamole’s biggest night, the U.S. suspended avocado imports from Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) said it had paused its avocado inspections in Michoacan after one of its officers received a threatening call to his official cell phone. Michoacan is the only Mexican state that is authorized to export avocados to the U.S., but the area is also home to drug cartel turf battles, and avocado growers there are sometimes extorted by cartels.

In the past six weeks, Michoacan avocado producers have exported more than 135,000 tons of avocados to the United States, the Mexican Agriculture Ministry said, and there are about $3 billion in annual exports.

During the winter months, the vast majority of avocados in the U.S.— about 99%—come from Mexico. Mexico is the leading producer and exporter of avocados globally, and while California-grown avocados are also sold throughout the U.S., but low rainfall in the state has led to smaller fruit and a smaller crop size.

A previous shortage of avocados has led to a large increase in price, and the blockage of imports from Mexico will likely make them exorbitantly expensive and rare.

The APHIS-USDA said they are currently investigating the matter to assess the level of threat and decide how to keep personnel working in Michoacan safe.

The Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico (APEAM), meanwhile, said that they were working with local authorities to fix the problem as quickly as possible, noting that the 300,000 jobs associated with the industry have already been impacted by the decision to pause exports. “We encourage all those actors in this value chain to take extreme care and vigilance to preserve such an important export program,” the APEAM said in a statement.

Because the United States grows its own avocados, U.S. inspectors in Mexico work to make sure exported avocados don’t come with diseases that would hurt U.S. crops. In 1914, weevils, scabs, and pests entered U.S. orchards from Mexican products, which led to a ban on importing avocados from the country that wasn’t lifted until 1997.

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