UPDATED: U.S. stopped imports of avocados from Mexico town - The Packer

UPDATED: U.S. stopped imports of avocados from Mexico town

12/02/2013 04:42:00 PM
Andy Nelson

USDAThe U.S. has temporarily stopped importing avocados from Tancitaro, Michoacan, Mexico, over security concerns.

But according to some reports, the Tancitaro industry was up and running again by Dec. 3.

In mid-November, the U.S. Embassy Regional Security Office, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, decided to temporarily suspend avocado export activities in Tancitaro in order to ensure the safety of APHIS employees, said Workabeba Yigzaw, an APHIS spokeswoman.

“No APHIS employees were directly threatened, and the suspension of export activities is expected to be only temporary,” Yigzaw said Dec. 2.

According to a Dec. 4 statement from the trade group Avocados from Mexico, the suspension was expected to be short-lived and other regions were not affected and are expected to keep shipping.

“(On Dec. 3) harvesting resumed in Tancitaro, and USDA is working with local officials to bring full production back online as quickly as possible,” according to the statement. “We have been in touch with growers throughout Michoacán, and no other municipalities have been affected. Given the government support in these areas we anticipate no further shutdowns.”

The afternoon of Dec. 5, Yigzaw said APHIS inspectors had not resumed inspection activities in Tancitaro.

The USDA’s decision to temporarily ban imports from the town came amid reports that a group of Tancitaro’s residents killed members of the Knights Templar drug cartel in Tancitaro in November.

Several recent stories in the Mexican media have linked the Knights Templar to the Mexican avocado industry. The cartel is accused of extorting money from avocado growers, according to the stories.

USDA officials would not comment on whether the action was related to the drug trade.

On April 25, two packinghouses in Tancitaro burned down, but effects on shipments to the U.S. were not affected. Pharr, Texas-based Agroexport was the owner of one of the sheds.

In its statement, Avocados from Mexico officials said they did not know why USDA suspended shipments from Tancitaro, but the association recognizes the toll Mexico’s war on drugs has taken on avocado growers and many others in Mexico.

“We are all aware that the war on drugs in Mexico has affected life in Mexican cities as well as the rural areas that are home to growers of many crops and many industries,” according to the statement. “We certainly hope it can be resolved as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Mexico continues to be the world’s largest supplier of avocados year-round and exporters are able to source ample supplies from the other 20-plus USDA-approved municipalities in Michoacán to keep the market well supplied.”

Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Irvine, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board, said that the latest stories in the media have “falsely portrayed” the cartels’ effects on the avocado industry.

Escobedo said he had “no way of confirming” whether growers are being extorted. He said many others have been affected by the drug trade for years, not just the avocado industry.

“I don’t think this is anything new,” he said. “The Mexican avocado industry, like many other industries and companies, has been the victim of widespread problems fueled by the war on drugs.”

The drug trade has created an “unsafe environment” for many avocado grower-shippers and packers, as it has for more millions of other Mexicans, Escobedo said.

Despite those problems, he said, the avocado industry continues to grow. Mexico is on tap to once again send record shipments to the U.S. this season, he said.

Shipments year-to-date through early December also have not been affected, Escobedo said.

Importers of Mexican avocados either did not return requests for comment or would not comment.

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