Threats to an American agricultural inspector in the Mexican state of Michoacán caused the US to suspend imports of avocados from its neighbor, officials said, disrupting a $2.4bn industry during one of its busiest times of the year.
Mexico’s department of agriculture said in a statement that the inspector received a threatening message on his cellphone, prompting the ban on avocado exports to the US “until further notice.”
The US agricultural department (USDA) has not confirmed the move, but warned after an incident in 2019, in which a team of US inspectors was reportedly robbed by a gang at gunpoint, that further threats would prompt an immediate cessation of “program activities.”
Michoacan is the only state in Mexico with a license to export avocados to the US, and the Mexican growers and packers association says its members are a frequent target of violence and threats from organized crime groups seeking protection money.
In 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available, Mexico exported almost 965 metric tons (2.1m pounds) of avocados to the US, a 7% increase on the previous year as demand for guacamole and other avocado products increased.
Mexico announced the USDA’s decision the night before the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, traditionally one of the biggest days of avocado consumption of the year, although produce used this year was exported several weeks before the game.
The inspector who was threatened was part of a team working for the USDA’s animal and plant health inspection services department, according to the Associated Press. The US lifted a three-year ban on Mexican avocados in 1997 after an inspection deal was struck to try to prevent weevils, scabs and other pests from entering orchards.