The United States overturned a week-long ban on Mexican avocado imports, which had been provoked by a threat against a food inspector and had blocked America’s principal source of the crop.
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“This is unquestionably fantastic news – for customers, supermarkets, and the sector as a whole,” said David Magana, senior analyst at Rabobank International in Fresno, California. Because of the rapid conclusion, “many customers are unlikely to have noticed a significant price increase or even realized that avocados were no longer being imported from Mexico.”
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service resumed avocado inspections in Mexico’s coastal Michoacan region, the only region in the country from which the United States accepts imports, after Mexican authorities and an avocado growers group provided additional safety measures for inspectors, according to a statement released Friday.
“The safety of USDA staff who are merely performing their duties is of the utmost importance,” the department stated. “USDA is grateful for the excellent, collaborative relationship between the United States and Mexico that allowed this problem to be resolved in a timely way.”
The import ban went into effect on February 11 after a U.S. embassy security official determined that a threat made against a USDA employee was serious. APHIS reports that a US inspector expressed concerns about an avocado shipment and declined certification. Following that, the inspector’s supervisor, as well as the supervisor’s family, were threatened.
In 2020, a USDA employee was murdered while doing fruit fly and citrus pest identification and eradication efforts in Northern Mexico.
The import ban decimated a sector vital to the violence-plagued state of Michoacan, which provides 80 percent of the avocados consumed in the United States. The USDA inspection freeze halted shipments to the United States, but imports of produce that had previously passed examination were permitted to continue. According to agency statistics, prices in Chicago increased by 59 percent during the prohibition.
According to one producer in Michoacan, over 20,000 tons of avocados worth around $50 million that would typically have been shipped since the February 11 suspension are still hanging on branches.
Smaller restaurants in the United States, which lack the purchasing power of larger chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., were especially keen for the prohibition to be lifted as soon as possible.
“If a deal is not reached, avocados will come from California, but the feeling is that the state will hoard them and there may be very few for other states,” said Tracy Vaught, owner and operator of H Town Restaurant in Houston, Texas, which operates five restaurants, four of which serve Mexican food.
(Includes an analyst remark in the second paragraph, as well as further information on the ban, comments from a restaurant owner, producer estimates, a map, and avocado prices throughout.)
With thanks to Max de Haldevang.