(G. Arizon/SFVS) Supermarket El Super selling avocados after the US placed a ban on their import.

Avocado prices are expected to spike in the US after exports of the fruit from Mexico were banned last Saturday following an official receiving a threatening phone call. 

The US placed a ban on the import of avocados from Michoacán, the only Mexican state authorized to export them to the country, after an inspector from the Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) was threatened on his official cell phone. Officials did not elaborate further on the nature of the threat. 

“Facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the US and ensuring the safety of our agricultural inspection teams go hand in hand,” wrote the US Embassy in Mexico on Twitter. “We are working … to guarantee security conditions that allow our personnel in Michoacán to resume operations.” 

The announcement came the day before the Super Bowl, when avocado consumption is at its highest in the nation. During the 2019 Super Bowl, sales from Michoacán reached an estimated 120,000 metric tons in the US. 

Avocado prices have already been on the rise for years. In 2019, the price of a single Hass avocado nearly doubled to over $2 from the previous year, and prices currently have increased by 100 percent from last year, costing $50 per carton. 

The global avocado market was valued at $12.8 billion in 2019, with Mexico being by far the biggest producer and exporter of avocados in the world. In 2020, the country produced nearly 2.4 million metric tons of avocados. A 2021 report by the Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico (APEAM) state there are over 29,000 registered producers in Michoacán.  

The United States is the biggest importer of avocados in the world, receiving around 80 percent of Mexico’s produce. 2020 retail sales in the U.S. amounted to approximately $2.6 billion, and in 2019, Mexico exported more than 889,000 metric tons of avocado. In comparison, the US produces around 10 percent of the avocado the nation consumes – the vast majority coming from California.  

The ban comes at a time when drug cartels have increasingly been moving into the avocado industry. A growing number of farmers have said that violent gangs have issued kidnapping or death threats unless they pay them protection money.  

In August 2019, a team of USDA inspectors were “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a town just west of Uruapan. According to local authorities, a gang robbed the truck the team was traveling in at gunpoint.  

“For future situations that result in a security breach, or demonstrate an immediate physical threat to the well-being of APHIS personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities,” the USDA wrote in a letter at the time. 

This is not the first time the US has banned avocado imports. In 1997, the country lifted a ban that was held in place in 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering US orchards. It remains to be seen how long the current ban will be in effect.  

A meeting has already been held between APHIS and representatives of APEAM with local and state police to address the issue. 

“The APEAM is actively participating in coordination with the authorities of both countries to resolve the problem in order to reinforce internal practices and processes that guarantee the traceability of the fruit,” the association said in a statement.  

“The facts mentioned here have already impacted the economy of the entire program, affecting the industry and the more than 300,000 jobs that depend on it. We encourage all those actors in this value chain to take extreme care and vigilance to preserve such an important export program.”