U.S.D.A. Suspends Avocado Inspections in Mexico, Citing Security Concerns

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 U.S.D.A. said on Monday.

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 Michoacán, 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 U.S.D.A. spokesman said in an email.

The agency did not say what had prompted the security concerns. But Mexican news outlets recently reported that two U.S.D.A. inspectors had been illegally detained at a checkpoint run by community members. In Michoacán, 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 United States Embassy in Mexico confirmed on Monday that the inspectors were no longer in detention.

“The interruption of avocado exports from Michoacán 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 Michoacán.

“Without inspections, there can be no exports,” said Lupita Mirón, an APEAM spokeswoman.

This is not the first time that U.S. safety inspectors have faced security threats in Michoacán, 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 U.S.D.A. 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 U.S.D.A. inspectors.

The agency is committed to resuming inspections “as swiftly as possible,” the U.S.D.A. spokesman 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 Michoacán for export.

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