US suspends Mexican avocado imports on eve of Super Bowl
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MEXICO CITY -- Mexico has acknowledged that the U.S. government has suspended all imports of Mexican avocados after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico received a threat.
The surprise, temporary suspension was confirmed late Saturday on the eve of the Super Bowl, the biggest sales opportunity of the year for Mexican avocado growers - though it would not affect game-day consumption since those avocados had already been shipped.
Avocado exports are the latest victim of the drug cartel turf battles and extortion of avocado growers in the western state of Michoacan, the only state in Mexico fully authorized to export to the U.S. market.
The U.S. government suspended all imports of Mexican avocados "until further notice" after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico received a threatening message, Mexico's Agriculture Department said in a statement.
"U.S. health authorities ... made the decision after one of their officials, who was carrying out inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, received a threatening message on his official cellphone," the department wrote.
The import ban came on the day that the Mexican avocado growers and packers association unveiled its Super Bowl ad for this year. Mexican exporters have taken out the pricey ads for almost a decade in a bid to associate guacamole as a Super Bowl tradition.
This year's ad shows Julius Caesar and a rough bunch of gladiator fans outside what appears to be the Colosseum, soothing their apparently violent differences by enjoying guacamole and avocados.
The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ban, which hits an industry with almost $3 billion in annual exports. However, avocados for this year's Super Bowl had already been exported in the weeks prior to the event.
The U.S. Embassy wrote that "facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the U.S. and guaranteeing the safety of our agricultural inspection personnel go hand in hand."
"We are working with the Mexican government to guarantee security conditions that would allow our personnel in Michoacan to resume operations," the embassy wrote in its social media accounts.
Because the United States also grows avocados, U.S. inspectors work in Mexico to ensure exported avocados don't carry diseases that could hurt U.S. crops.
It was only in 1997 that the U.S. lifted a ban on Mexican avocados that had been in place since 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering U.S. orchards.
The inspectors work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.
It is not the first time that the violence in Michoacan - where the Jalisco cartel is fighting turf wars against a collection of local gangs known as the United Cartels - has threatened avocados, the state's most lucrative crop.
After a previous incident in 2019, the USDA had warned about the possible consequences of attacking or threatening U.S. inspectors.