Mexican Avocado Ban Lifted, Averting Shortage and Price Hikes
Imports of the fruit were suspended Saturday after a death threat against a US safety inspector.
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The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement that it's working closely with avocado growers and the US Embassy in Mexico to strengthen security measures protecting inspectors in the field.
"The safety of USDA employees simply doing their jobs is of paramount importance," the agency said. "USDA is appreciative of the positive, collaborative relationship between the United States and Mexico that made resolution of this issue possible in a timely manner."
The unnamed inspector had reportedly refused to certify a certain shipment, prompting death threats against him and his family.
Saturday's announcement triggered concerns about a major spike in avocado prices and scarcity at supermarkets and on restaurant menus.
Mexico provides nearly 80% of America's avocados and, until December, Michoacán, a state in western Mexico, was the only Mexican state authorized to export the fruit to the US.
But Michoacán is also home to drug cartels that often extort growers. The syndicates have made threats against US inspectors before.
Peru, Colombia, Chile and Southern California also provide avocados for the US market, and while they pale next to Mexico's contribution, the ongoing safety issues will likely see investment in those regions grow.
Avocado prices were already rising before the USDA ban. In the week prior, a Department of Agriculture report on avocado prices showed the average price of a Hass avocado was $1.24, compared with 78 cents the same time last year. They were also scarcer, with the green fruit on sale at just 5,505 locations between Feb. 4 and 11, compared with 20,000 stores in 2021.
The issue predates the pandemic and related supply chain issues. In July 2019, the wholesale price of Mexican avocados rose 129%, USA Today reported, to about $85 for a 25-pound box, compared with $37 in 2018.
Demand has gone through the roof in recent years, thanks to nutritionists touting avocados as a superfood rich in potassium, fiber and monounsaturated fat, as well as the growing popularity of guacamole and avocado toast.