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An avocado packing employee at work. An avocado packing employee at work.

US halts avocado imports after inspector threatened

Farmers, packers and cartels all want a piece of Michoacán's 'green gold'

The United States government has suspended avocado imports from Michoacán after one of its Mexico-based inspectors was threatened.

Michoacán – Mexico’s third most violent state last year – is currently the only state authorized to export avocados to the U.S., although Jalisco is expected to be given the green light to do so before the end of this year.

The Ministry of Agriculture (SADER) announced Saturday that the United States had advised that it was temporarily suspending avocado shipments.

“The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (APHIS-USDA) decided to pause avocado inspection activities in Michoacán until further notice,” it said in a statement.

The decision came after an avocado inspector in Uruapan received a threatening call to his official cell phone, SADER said.

Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla.
Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla.

“APHIS-USDA reported that an investigation is currently being carried out to assess the threat and determine the mitigation measures necessary to guarantee the physical safety of all its personnel who work in Michoacán,” the ministry said.

SADER also said it was informed that APHIS personnel were discussing the issue with the Mexican Association of Avocado Producers, Packers and Exporters (APEAM). APHIS inspectors have to certify U.S-bound avocados before they can be shipped.

The United States Embassy in Mexico said on Twitter that “facilitating the exportation of Mexican avocados to the U.S. and guaranteeing the safety of our agricultural inspection teams go hand in hand.”

“We’re working with the Mexican government to guarantee safety conditions that allow our personnel in Michoacán to resume operations,” it said Sunday.

The United States’ suspension of imports came the day before Super Bowl Sunday – a day on which consumption of Mexican avocados skyrockets – but supplies to meet the increased demand were shipped before it took effect.

Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla said Saturday that his government would do what was necessary so that avocado exports could resume shortly.

He spoke with U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar and APEAM general director Armando López Orduña on Sunday, and the three men agreed to a series of meetings aimed at the prompt resumption of exports. Issues related to the harvesting and packing of avocados in Michoacán and their export to the United States were set to be discussed.

Ramírez noted that state police have been carrying out operations to ensure the safety of workers and U.S. inspectors as avocados are picked and transported. That work will continue, he stressed.

Avocados are a major source of income in Michoacán, where farmers, packers and cartels compete for their share of the “green gold” profits.

With reports from El Universal and Milenio

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