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13 Feb, 2022 19:56

US halts avocado imports over drug cartel threats – reports

Shipments from Mexico were suspended on the eve of the Super Bowl, the biggest event annually for the avocado industry
US halts avocado imports over drug cartel threats – reports

Mexican avocado growers have lost access to their largest market at perhaps the worst possible time, as the US has suspended imports of the pricey fruit just ahead of the industry’s Super Bowl marketing blitz.

Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry confirmed the suspension on Saturday, saying US officials halted imports after a USDA inspector working in Michoacan state received a threatening message on his cellphone. The Associated Press linked the threat to drug cartels in Michoacan.

A 2019 incident where a drug gang robbed a truck in which USDA inspectors were traveling prompted a warning from Washington that future attacks or threats wouldn’t be tolerated. USDA inspectors operate in Mexico to ensure that US-bound avocados don’t carry diseases that could affect America’s domestic avocado trees.

Avocados are Michoacan’s most lucrative crop, generating annual export revenue of nearly $2.8 billion. The US accounts for about 80% of those sales. With trade suspended, that market is cut off “until further notice,” the Mexican Agriculture Ministry said.

The import suspension was confirmed on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday, which is the biggest event of the year for the avocado industry. A Mexican avocado trade group typically buys ad time each year to promote guacamole as a Super Bowl snack. Sunday’s Super Bowl is no exception, as this year’s Mexican avocado commercial features Julius Caesar and gladiator fans enjoying guacamole and avocados.

While the import suspension won’t affect consumption during Sunday’s big game – those avocados were shipped over the past several weeks – it will block any near-term demand gains that the growers hoped to achieve through their ad campaign. Some 30-second commercials for this year’s game reportedly sold for a record $7 million each. The Super Bowl attracts about 100 million viewers.