To the relief of avocado lovers from coast to coast, the recent drama between the United States and Mexico was fleeting.
REUTERS.- The U.S. Department of Agriculture banned imports of the fleshy fruit from Mexico on Feb. 11, 2022, after an employee of its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, who was working in Mexico, received threats after refusing to certify a mislabeled shipment of avocados.
With only a two- to three-week supply stored in American warehouses, any extended disruption to the avocado pipeline would have been quickly felt.
Eight days later, the ban was lifted, and cooks could resume smashing avocados into guacamole, blending them into smoothies and smearing them onto bread without trepidation.
Yet to me, this disruption – however brief – reveals just how reliant the U.S. has become on its neighbor for a product that has seen its demand soar. When I was working on my book “Avocado: A Global History,” I was struck by the extent to which this lucrative trade has evolved over the past 25 years, making it an attractive business possibility for both legitimate and criminal enterprises.
Mexico’s cash crop
Avocados from Mexico have been fueling America’s taste for the fruit since 1997, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted a 1914 import ban, which originally was implemented due to fears over pests like seed weevils infesting U.S. crops. At the time, Southern California produced about 90% of the avocados eaten by Americans.
Since then, per capita avocado consumption in the U.S. has ballooned from 2 pounds in 2001 to nearly 8 pounds in 2018.
This increase in the popularity of avocados, coupled with the limitations of domestic sources, has allowed Mexican avocados to dominate the American market. Today, Mexico – specifically, the Mexican state of Michoacán, which is the only state certified to sell the fruit to the U.S. – supplies about 80% of the 60 million pounds of avocados eaten north of the border each week.https://www.youtube.com/embed/lEEFBXx8VBI?wmode=transparent&start=0
Avocados are sometimes referred to as “green gold” because of the price they command in international commodity markets. Exports of avocados from Mexico were valued at nearly US$3 billion in 2021, ahead of both tequila and beer, two other popular Mexican exports. The average price of an avocado is up 10% from a year ago; during the brief ban, the price of a carton of the fruit catapulted to nearly $60, up from around $30 a year ago.