MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. Embassy announced Friday that Washington is lifting a ban on inspecting Mexican avocados, clearing the way for exports to resume.

The suspension of inspections had threatened Mexico’s $3 billion in annual exports and raised the possibility of higher prices for American consumers.

Ambassador Ken Salazar said in a statement that the decision came after Mexico and the United States agreed “to adopt the measures that guarantee the safety” of agricultural inspectors responsible for ensuring that Mexican avocados do not are not carriers of diseases or pests that would harm the United States. orchards.

Salazar did not describe those measures or whether they would respond to reports of Mexican growers and packers playing fast and losing with sanitary measures designed to protect U.S. production.

Inspections were halted last week after one of the US inspectors was threatened in the western state of Michoacan, where growers are routinely extorted by drug cartels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the inspector received a threat “against him and his family.”

He said the inspector had “questioned the integrity of a certain shipment and refused to certify it based on concrete issues”.

Michoacan is the only Mexican state certified pest-free and able to export avocados to the US market. Numerous reports indicate that some Mexican packers are buying avocados from other states that are not certified and trying to pass them off as those from Michoacan.

“I am pleased to announce that today the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined that it will immediately resume its avocado inspection program in Michoacán. “, wrote Salazar.

The service said on Friday that “avocado exports to the United States have resumed.”

The week-long ban had already taken its toll on Michoacan avocado pickers, who this week stood by the roadside outside the town of Uruapan asking for donations after losing their jobs .

Holding signs reading “Voluntary donations” and “We live by picking avocados,” they waited for motorists to drop spare change into the buckets they were holding.

There were signs that supplies may have tightened since the announcement of the suspension of inspections last Saturday and that the damage to Mexico’s violence-plagued avocado industry could be lasting: this could prompt Companies importing avocados should look beyond Mexico, which currently supplies about 92% of US fruit imports.

Peru, Colombia and Chile already ship avocados to the United States, but in quantities that represent only a tiny fraction of Mexican production. This may change.

“I was talking with a few avocado buyers nationwide, and going forward, they know they need to diversify their suppliers,” said Miguel Gómez, professor of applied economics and management at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. . “The problem is that they realized that it would be very risky to depend on one source.”

Exports from Mexico have been largely responsible for the huge increase in avocado consumption in the United States in recent decades, as they have made the fruit available year-round, including during the Super Bowl.

Per capita consumption of avocados in the United States has tripled since 2001 to reach 8 pounds per person in 2018.

The Mexican harvest runs from January to March, while the US production runs from April to September.

Although there are concerns about the deforestation and violence that have resulted from the avocado boom in Michoacan, it is unclear whether Americans would be willing to pay more for avocados produced by producers who do not pay. protection money demanded by drug cartels in Michoacan.

The connection to American consumers is hardly theoretical: this protection money goes to the same cartels that are flooding the United States with deadly fentanyl pills counterfeited to look like Xanax, Adderall or Oxycodone. Synthetic opioid overdoses killed an estimated 60,000 Americans last year.

“It makes Americans really think about whether they want to pay more for a quality product or whether they want to look away and be able to slice their toast accordingly?” said Desirée LeClercq, professor of labor law at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “And I think consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about how these products are made. But whether or not that trickles down to consumer behavior I think remains to be seen.

Mark Stevenson, Associated Press

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