US will gradually resume avocado inspections in conflictive Mexican state, ambassador says

MEXICO CITY — U.S. government inspections of avocados and mangoes in the Mexican state of Michoacan will gradually resume, U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar announced Friday, a week after they were suspended following an attack on inspectors.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors “will gradually begin returning to packing plants following the recent aggression against them,” Salazar said in a statement. “However, it is still necessary to make progress in ensuring their safety before they can become fully operational.”

“In fact, more work needs to be done so that (agricultural) inspectors are safe and can resume inspections, thereby removing barriers to the trade of avocado and mango to the United States from Michoacan.”

Last weekend, two USDA workers were attacked and temporarily detained by assailants in Michoacan, Salazar said earlier this week. That prompted the US to suspend inspections in Mexico’s largest avocado-producing state.

The employees work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Because the United States also grows avocados, U.S. inspectors work in Mexico to ensure that exported avocados do not carry diseases that could harm U.S. crops.

Earlier this week, Michoacan Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla said the inspectors were stopped on June 14 during a protest by residents of Aranza in western Michoacan.

He downplayed the situation and suggested the inspectors were never in danger. He said he contacted the U.S. Embassy the next day and state forces provided security to the state’s avocado producers and packers.

Many avocado growers in Michoacan say drug gangs threaten them or their relatives with kidnapping or death unless they pay protection fees, which sometimes amount to thousands of dollars per hectare.

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

In February 2022, the U.S. Govt suspended inspections of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after a US factory safety inspector in Michoacan received a threatening message. After about a week the stop was lifted.

Later that year Jalisco became the second Mexican state to be allowed to export avocados to the US

The new pause in inspections has not blocked shipments of Mexican avocados to the United States, as Jalisco is now an exporter and many Michoacan avocados are already in transit.

Salazar said he was optimistic that things were moving in a positive direction, but that he wouldn’t be satisfied until inspectors can work without threats to their safety.