Two US inspectors are attacked in Mexico while checking fresh shipment of avocados

Two US inspectors are attacked in Mexico while checking fresh shipment of avocados

The United States has halted inspections of avocados and mangoes in Mexico’s Michoacán state after two US Agriculture Department employees were attacked and detained.

Two employees of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which operates under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), were recently attacked and detained while inspecting avocados, according to the United States Embassy in Mexico.

The two employees have since been released; however, the embassy wrote that APHIS has suspended the inspections of avocados and mangoes in Michoacán to ensure the safety of the agricultural inspection team.

The statement did not go into further detail about how the two employees were attacked, where, and for how long they were detained. The inspections will be suspended until the safety issues have been resolved.

The Independent has contacted the Department of Agriculture for further information.

The pause in this state does not impact other Mexican states, where other APHIS inspections continue. It does not block all exports of avocados or mangoes into the US, or stop any product in transit.

A USDA spokesperson also confirmed that the inspections had been paused until further notice.

"The (safety inspection) programs will remain paused until the security situation is reviewed and protocols and safeguards are in place," the USDA spokesperson told Reuters.

United States Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar wrote in the statement that he has been “closely monitoring the situation” and remains in direct contact with officials from Mexico’s state and federal governments.

Next week, Salazar intends to travel to Michoacán to meet with Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla and the Association of Producers and Export Packers of Mexico to address security.

Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla told reporters on Monday that Mexican authorities were in discussions with US officials to try and resolve this situation quickly, according to The Associated Press.

The governor told Mexico’s Radio Formula on Tuesday that the inspectors had been stopped in a protest by residents of Aramza in the state on Friday, the AP reported, adding that he downplayed the situation and suggested they were never at risk.

Governor Ramírez Bedolla told the radio station that he reached out to the US Embassy the next day and that the state forces were providing security for the avocado producers and packers.

While avocado exports will continue in other areas, Michoacán is known to be Mexico’s biggest export of avocados, the outlet reports, meaning the demand for the fruit in the United States could eventually rise.

If the suspension is prolonged, this could cause a blow to one of Mexico’s top farm exports, with avocados earning the nickname “green gold,” and US consumers, who often eat the fruit as guacamole or as avocado on toast.

The suspension comes as tensions surround criminal organizations’ interest in one of Mexico’s most profitable food exports.

Some drug cartels are reportedly extorting avocado producers in Michoacán, threatening growers or their families with kidnapping and death unless they shell out protection money over their acres.

Gang members have also reportedly transported avocados grown in other states that have not been approved for export, and tried to send them through the US inspection process.

The cartels also have been accused of preying on orchard owners, laborers who pick the avocados, and the drivers who transport them to the United States, according to The Los Angeles Times.

It is not the first time that the US has suspended the inspection of Mexican avocados, having done so in February 2022 after a US plant safety inspection in Michoacán received a threatening message The pause lasted for around a week.

The swarm of organized crime comes as Mexico’s avocado industry has seen its value quadruple over the last decade, with the crop being the country’s second most valuable in 2022, according to Insight Crime.