USDA suspends avocado inspections in Mexican state over security fears

The United States has suspended inspections of avocados and mangoes in the western Mexican state of Michoacan over security fears, a U.S. official told the Associated Press Monday.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Reuters news agency that the decision followed a security incident involving its staff and said that inspection programs “will remain paused until the security situation is reviewed and protocols and safeguards are in place.”

The shipments already in transit would not be affected, and checks in other states are not affected, a U.S. government spokesperson, who could not be named due to agency policy, told the AP.

Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados — a staple in the diets of many Americans who love it on their toast, or made into guacamole, particularly during the Super Bowl. The United States imported a record 2.78 billion pounds of fresh avocados in 2023, with 89 percent of those imports coming from Mexico, according to the USDA.

Michoacan Gov. Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla told reporters Monday that he has been in constant contact with U.S. officials to provide guarantees for the exports.

No further details about the security incident that prompted the decision were immediately available.

However, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico issued a security alert for the Mexican state on Friday that read: “Due to recent security incidents in Aranza, Michoacan, the U.S. government reminds U.S. citizens not to travel to the state of Michoacan.”

U.S. government employees in the area had been advised to shelter in place, it added.

The State Department warns against travel to Michoacan “due to crime and kidnapping” — the same level of travel warning for five other Mexican states, including Sinaloa and Zacatecas.

The United States briefly suspended avocado imports from Michoacan in 2022 after a U.S. plant safety inspector received a threatening letter, prompting concerns of potential price rises. At the time, Michoacan was the only Mexican state to supply the fruit to the United States, but neighboring Jalisco has since begun its own exports to the north.

For decades until the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, avocados from Mexico were banned from entering the United States out of concern that weevils, scabs and other pests could infect U.S. suppliers, as The Washington Post reported in 2022. USDA inspectors now ensure that fruits are pest-free before import.

In recent years, avocados have been considered one of America’s favorite fruits, and a preoccupation for many during U.S.-Mexico border disputes. In 2019, President Donald Trump’s threat to close the border with Mexico sparked widespread anxiety, media coverage and memes over the prospect of an avocado shortage.

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