Eighty percent of avocados in the U.S. come from Mexico—except when they don’t, like right now. Just before the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest avocado moment of year, a U.S. official involved in inspecting the fruit in Mexico received a verbal threat on his phone, leading to a ban on importing any avocados from Mexico to the U.S. The temporary ban includes any avocados not certified for inspection by February 11, and will last indefinitely, until the USDA can be certain of the safety of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service employees. The effect of the ban could start to show up in grocery stores in two weeks, with dwindling stocks and prices for what few avocados are available skyrocketing.
Experts suspect the issues may involve drug cartels, according to The New York Times, as the imported Mexican avocado crop comes from Michoacán, a state where drug cartels operate widely—and the only state licensed to import the fruit to the U.S. As the cartels become more fragmented, the paper reported, they “sought ways to diversify their illicit income streams,” and found a ripe industry in avocados (though they have also been accused of messing with lime shipments).
According to NPR, it's likely that restaurant chains will see the biggest issues with the avocado shortages, having to pay higher prices for domestic avocados or imports from further afield, like Peru, to keep signature items on menus. Smaller restaurants will likely simply remove menu items that use them, while grocery stores will have lower stocks and higher prices.
The USDA is working with the Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico and the embassy in Mexico to resolve the issue, but says it will not reopen imports until it can be assured of the safety of its inspectors.
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