A single “threatening message” was all it took to stop all shipments of avocados from the world’s biggest grower—Mexico—to the world’s biggest consumer—The United States.
While Americans watched Super Bowl ads for Mexican avocados, the United States Department of Agriculture stopped all avocado imports. It raised concerns about national shortages, and even increased prices. Start hoarding guacamole now, fans.
This story is more than a tale about unexpected consequences of Mexican drug cartel behaviour. The story also shows how fragile supply chains can be made by complex food regulations or touchy import agreements.
Here’s what happened: America has an agreement with Mexico from 1997 to allow the import of Hass avocados from the State of Michoacán in Mexico. Mexico is made up of 32 different states. Only Michoacán has such an import agreement. The U.S. bans avocados entering from other Mexican states, but the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development anticipates that avocado exports will start from Jalisco later in this year.
It Washington Post reports that an inspector found avocados at a facility that were from a state other than Michoacán that had been prepared for import to the United States. It’s illegal. The facility was then reported to have been occupied by people who tried to intimidate an inspector. All Mexican avocado[yes?]Imports to the United States
According to the Hass Avocado Board (an independent marketing organization), half of the avocados sold worldwide are consumed by Americans. The only 15% of these avocados that are domestically grown is a tiny fraction. Over 80 percent of the avocados imported by America come from Mexico.
Mexican drug cartels push further into traditional agriculture markets in an attempt to increase revenue. Even gang turf disputes exist over limes or avocados. Given the situation, it would seem like a recipe for trouble to put all our import avocados in one basket—or just one Mexican state, as it were.
Michoacán does have thousands of avocado orchards and dozens of avocado packers who meet the USDA’s regulatory restrictions to export to the United States. It’s clear there is a problem when one security concern can stop an entire import category. Avocados may seem a bit low stakes—even the jokes about millennial love of spreading it on toast are old and tired—but this will disrupt thousands of jobs and could wreck a lot of livelihoods.
Why is it that importation remains a problem in one state after more than 25 years? The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service explained that federal regulations require extensive inspections to stop fruit flies and weevils from entering the United States. There are reasonsThis compliance “saves the United States from the introduction of economically relevant quarantine insects that could be harmful to U.S. agricultural and environmental health.” Avocados from Mexico and other Mexican countries are currently not part of this certification program. They are therefore not allowed to enter the United States at the moment.
Given that the U.S. is the primary consumer of avocados in the entire world, it should come as no surprise that Michoacán has also become the biggest grower of avocados within Mexico itself. Because avocados cannot be shipped to the US, there is less incentive for other Mexican states to produce as many avocados.
The high incentives for predatory player to attempt to gain entry to this game is also explained by it. The Super Bowl was just before it. Los Angeles Times noted that the explosion of avocado growth in Michoacán state has led to deforestation and drug cartel bloodshed. Although the article mentions America’s addiction to guacamole, the author doesn’t discuss how Mexican import restrictions have essentially made it worse for Mexican growers.
Only big businesses can offer goods and services when the rules to join a particular market are complicated and costly. Everyone else has to work on the black markets. More avocado growers from Mexico would send their produce to America, which would reduce arbitrage possibilities for cartels and result in greater profits for all. We’d also have more guacamole.