By: Soren Sabey
Over the years the avocado has become an extremely popular food choice in the American diet. However after a verbal threat was made to a U.S safety inspection officer working in Mexico the US has decided to temporarily ban avocado shipments from Mexico starting on February 11, 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said: “The suspension will remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure the appropriate actions are taken, to secure the safety of APHIS personnel working in Mexico.” Currently over 80% of avocado shipments to the United States come from Mexico. This would also be a problem for Mexico because over 2.8 billion dollars are made yearly from avocado imports alone. The threats made to the
inspection officers have not been made public yet, however, there have been past concerns of Mexican cartels profiting through avocado shipments over the last ten years. Michoacán is the only state in Mexico that has a permit to export avocados to the US. Mexican growers and packers say they are frequently targeted with violence and threats from organized crime. In August 2019, a U.S. department of Agriculture team of inspectors was directly threatened in Ziracuaretiro, a town just west of Uruapan. While the agency didn’t specify what happened, locals say a gang robbed the truck the inspectors were traveling in at gunpoint. The USDA wrote in a letter, “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.” Nearly a week later inspections on avocados have resumed. Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the United States said that “The US will continue working together to fortify the strong bilateral supply chains that promote economic growth and prosperity in both our countries." Over the last six days of the suspension, many smaller restaurants and farmers have been holding their breath because of the economic issues that this would cause for them. The import ban shut down an industry critical to the gang consuming town of Michoacan, which supplies 80% of U.S. avocados. While the halt prevented exports to the U.S, USDA allowed imports to continue for produce that had already passed review. Prices in Chicago surged 59% during the ban. A farmer in Michoacan estimated: “Around 20,000 tons of avocados worth about $50 million that would normally have been exported since the Feb. 11 suspension are still hanging on trees.” A New York restaurant called Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila bar has been hearing rumors of resolution but is coming up with a backup plan to prepare for the worst. “We’re considering alternatives, other countries. We could scale back portions but we can’t compromise the integrity of our product,” he said. “Our guacamole is two avocados. When do we start scaling it back to one?” This is just one perspective of the many businesses that have been affected by this ban. If there are continued issues with avocado imports then it is possible that suppliers such as grocery stores and supermarkets could just ditch the project entirely to avoid not having a consistent supply of avocados. Stores in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey used to price $2 per avocado but now they are expecting prices to hit almost $3. However Stew Leonard, who is the owner of these stores says that he will keep selling avocados no matter the price. Leonard says he expects some grocers to move to smaller avocados. A standard case contains 48 pieces of the fruit, but there are cases of smaller avocados that contain 60, which would help buffer the price from skyrocketing. This last week has proved difficult for businesses and farmers all around the country. It is important to start looking for other solutions of importing avocados just in case there are other safety issues in the future. In less than a week the market for avocados has risen by almost $1 so long term effects could prove extremely difficult to deal with if similar problems continue to arise, avocado imports could be stopped completely which would hammer business and supermarkets.