Officials from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service won’t be inspecting Mexican avocados for export to the U.S. until the agency is confident there are safe working conditions in the state of Michoacán, effectively cutting off exports from the only Mexican state allowed to ship to the U.S.
APHIS halted its inspection operations on Feb. 11 after an inspector in Michoacán said he was verbally threatened, the agency said in a statement given to Agri-Pulse.
“The suspension will remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure the appropriate actions are taken, to secure the safety of APHIS personnel working in Mexico,” according to the statement. “APHIS is working with Customs and Border Protection of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow avocados that were inspected and certified for export on or before February 11, 2022, to continue to be imported.”
In the meantime, Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla says he is working to convince the U.S. that it is safe to resume inspections.
“We are working with representatives of the United States Embassy in Mexico to strengthen security protocols around avocado production, and be in a position to reactivate the export of the product,” he said in a tweet.
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There isn’t much time, though, to prevent market impacts for inflation-weary consumers in the U.S. Consumption of avocados in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years and California cannot produce enough to meet demand, says Rabo AgriFinance analyst David Magaña.
The U.S. now consumes yearly about nine pounds of avocados per capita. That’s more than double the four pounds per capita in 2010.
The U.S. once banned Mexican avocados, but now needs them. Michoacán avocados account for about 80% of U.S. consumption and the U.S. won’t be able fill that gap with imports from other major producing countries like Peru or Chile, Magaña said.
Chile now concentrates primarily on meeting its own rising domestic consumption and supplying European buyers, said Magaña. Peru may be able to supply more to the U.S. and California avocado production this year is expected to increase by 15%, but that won’t be nearly enough, he said.
The USDA in December approved a petition to allow avocado imports from Jalisco, another Mexican state, but those are not expected to begin arriving until May or June and the state doesn’t produce nearly as much as Michoacán.