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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

USDA suspends avocado inspections in Mexico, citing security concerns




By Emiliano Rodríguez Mega


Security concerns for agency workers have led the United States Agriculture Department to suspend its inspections of avocados and mangos imported from Mexico “until further notice,” the USDA said earlier this week.


Produce already cleared for export will not be affected by the decision, but avocado supplies in the United States, which mostly come from the Mexican state of Michoacan, could eventually be affected if the inspections are not resumed.


The inspections “will remain paused until the security situation is reviewed and protocols and safeguards are in place,” a USDA spokesperson said in an email.


The agency did not say what had prompted the security concerns. But Mexican news outlets recently reported that two USDA inspectors had been illegally detained at a checkpoint run by community members. In Michoacan, which stretches from the mountains west of Mexico City to the Pacific Ocean, some Indigenous communities have set up security patrols to defend themselves against criminal groups.


The U.S. Embassy in Mexico confirmed Monday that the inspectors were no longer in detention.


“The interruption of avocado exports from Michoacan was due to an incident unrelated to the avocado industry,” Julio Sahagún Calderón, the president of Mexico’s association of avocado producers and packers, known as APEAM, said in a statement. He added that the group was working “intensively” with Mexican and U.S. authorities to resume the inspection of avocados from Michoacan.


This is not the first time that U.S. safety inspectors have faced security threats in Michoacan, where residents have been caught in the middle of a brutal turf war between drug cartels.


In 2022, the United States decided to temporarily block all imports of avocados from Mexico after a verbal threat was made to a safety inspector. The ban was lifted days later after Mexico enacted more safety measures for USDA inspectors.


In addition to fighting over the drug trade, the cartels have sought to muscle their way into the legal economy, particularly the profitable avocado industry, the success of which has been fueled by the voracious U.S. appetite for the creamy fruit.


Orchards that produce avocados for export to the United States, along with the packing houses that process them, must be certified by both the Mexican authorities and USDA inspectors.


The agency is committed to resuming inspections “as swiftly as possible,” the USDA spokesperson said. He said that “avocados and mangos in transit are not impacted” by the suspension “as they have already undergone the inspection process.”


The popularity and profitability of avocados has caused environmental concerns in Mexico, with avocado orchards popping up in protected areas that are supposed to be off limits to both farmers and loggers. This has resulted in the loss of forests and the depletion of aquifers.


A report last year by Climate Rights International, a nonprofit organization documenting the human rights consequences of climate change, found that as of March 2023, the United States and Mexico had certified more than 50,000 avocado orchards in Michoacan for export.

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