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U.S.D.A. Avocado Inspectors Will Start Returning to Mexican Packing Plants

WorldU.S.D.A. Avocado Inspectors Will Start Returning to Mexican Packing Plants

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, announced on Friday that inspections of avocados and mangos made by U.S. Agriculture Department workers in Michoacán, a state in western Mexico, would “gradually” resume.

It was not immediately clear when that would happen. And Mr. Salazar seemed to suggest that the security concerns that had prompted the suspension last weekend had not been fully addressed.

“It is still necessary to advance in guaranteeing their security before reaching full operations,” he said in a statement, referring to the U.S.D.A. inspectors.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said that two employees of the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had been assaulted and detained while traveling in Michoacán, where they were surveying avocado orchards and packing plants — a step needed to make sure that the fruit exported to the United States is free of pests.

The embassy confirmed that the employees were later released. But the episode led the U.S. to halt its inspections of avocados and mangos imported from Mexico “until the security situation is reviewed and protocols and safeguards are in place,” a U.S.D.A. spokesman told The New York Times.

Earlier this week, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico promised to improve safety measures for the inspectors, adding that “an agreement is already being sought.”

But he complained that the United States has sometimes been quick to take “unilateral measures,” like the recent suspension. “We are convincing them to act differently, but it takes time,” he said.

The move has fueled concern among producers in Michoacán, the state responsible for 73 percent of avocado production in Mexico. Jalisco, the other Mexican state allowed to ship the fruit, accounts for 12 percent of production. Together, the two states supply about 90 percent of all U.S. avocado imports.

“We haven’t seen what measures the authorities are going to take to prevent this from happening again,” Juan Carlos Anaya, director general of an agricultural consulting group in Mexico, said in a radio interview this week.

This is not the first time that the United States has cited security concerns regarding their U.S.D.A. inspectors in Michoacán, where criminal groups have sought to infiltrate the avocado industry, a lucrative export market.

Satisfying the increasing U.S. demand for avocados as cartels muscle in has come at a high cost: Threats, abductions and killings, as well as widespread deforestation, have devastated Michoacán.

In 2022, the U.S. temporarily banned avocados from Mexico after a plant safety inspector in Michoacán received a threatening message. The ban was lifted shortly after, allowing exports to resume.

Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla, the governor of Michoacán, also announced on Friday the gradual reinstatement of the U.S.D.A. inspectors.

“We will continue to work to comply and ensure safe conditions in the performance of their work,” he said. “We hope that there will soon be positive news and that avocado and mango exports, on which Michoacán communities and families depend, will be reactivated.”

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