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

MEXICO CITY (AP) — 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 over an assault on inspectors.

The U.S. Agriculture Department inspectors “will gradually begin to return to the packing plants following recent aggression against them,” Salazar said in a statement. “However, it is still necessary to advance in guaranteeing their security before reaching full operations.”

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

Last weekend, two USDA employees were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants in Michoacan, Salazar said earlier this week. That led the U.S. to suspend inspections in Mexico’s biggest 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 exported avocados don’t carry diseases that could hurt U.S. crops.

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

He downplayed the situation, suggesting the inspectors were never at risk. He said that he got in touch with the U.S. Embassy the following day and that state forces were providing security for the state’s avocado producers and packers.

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.

In February 2022, the U.S. government suspended inspections of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Michoacan received a threatening message. The halt was lifted after about a week.

Later that year, Jalisco became the second Mexican state authorized to export avocados to the U.S.

The new pause in inspections didn’t block shipments of Mexican avocados to the United States, because Jalisco is now an exporter and there are a lot of Michoacan avocados already in transit.

Salazar said he was optimistic things were moving in a positive direction, but would not be satisified until the inspectors can work without threats to their safety.

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