Mexico has confirmed that the United States suspended all imports of Mexican avocados following a threat made to a U.S. plant safety inspector.
"U.S. health authorities…made the decision after one of their officials, who was carrying out inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, received a threatening message on his official cellphone," Mexico's Agriculture Department said in a statement.
The surprise suspension came on the eve of the Super Bowl, the biggest sales opportunity of the year for Mexican avocado growers — though it would not affect game-day consumption since those avocados had already been shipped.
Avocado exports are the latest victim of the drug cartel turf battles and extortion of avocado growers in the western state of Michoacan, the only state in Mexico fully authorized to export to the U.S. market.
The inspectors work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.
Because the United States also grows avocados, U.S. inspectors work in Mexico to ensure exported avocados don’t carry diseases that could hurt U.S. crops.
It is not the first time that the violence in Michoacan — where the Jalisco cartel is fighting turf wars against a collection of local gangs known as the United Cartels — has threatened avocados, the state’s most lucrative crop.
After a previous incident in 2019, the USDA had warned about the possible consequences of attacking or threatening U.S. inspectors.
In August 2019, a U.S. Department of Agriculture team of inspectors was "directly threatened" in Ziracuaretiro, a town just west of Uruapan. While the agency didn’t specify what happened, local authorities say a gang robbed the truck the inspectors were traveling in at gunpoint.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to a request from Fox News.
Mexico is the largest producer and exporter of avocados globally and exported over 2.4 billion dollars of product to the United States in 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report