US pauses avocado inspections again from Mexican state over security concerns

FILE - Picture of avocados in boxes at a packing plant in the municipality of Ario de Rosales, Michoacan State, Mexico, on September 21, 2023. (Photo by Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States government has suspended inspections of avocados and mangoes in the Mexican state of Michoacan due to security concerns. 

The suspension comes after two employees of the U.S. Agriculture Department were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants on Friday, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said Tuesday.

U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar said in a statement that the assault occurred while the employees were inspecting avocados in Michoacan. He said they were no longer being held. 

Many avocado growers in Michoacan say drug gangs threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay protection money, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars per acre.

There have also been reports of organized crime bringing avocados grown in other states not approved for export and trying to get them through U.S. inspections.

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Michoacan is Mexico’s biggest exporter of avocado. In 2022, after similar security issues in the western state, a second Mexican state, Jalisco, became authorized to export avocados to the U.S.

Inspections in Jalisco are not currently affected, and several Michoacan avocados are already in transit, so shipments of Mexican avocados to the U.S. were not expected to be blocked.

The U.S. also grows its own avocados, and sends U.S. inspectors to 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.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.