If you were one of the many deep-bellied Americans gorging on chips and Guacamole while taking in strange Super Bowl crypto ads over the weekend, you may soon have to dish out some more cash before going in for seconds. On Saturday, just one day prior to the Super Bowl, the Mexican government confirmed the U.S. had opted to suspend avocado imports after an official allegedly received a threatening phone call, the Associated Press notes.
In a translated press release issued by Mexico’s agricultural ministry, officials said the determination was made after a U.S. official carrying out an inspection in Uruapan, Michoacán received a threatening call to their cell phone. The incident, the AP notes, may have been linked to drug cartel activity.
“APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service]-USDA reported that an investigation is currently being carried out to assess the threat and determine the necessary mitigation measures to guarantee the physical integrity of all of its personnel working in Michoacán,” the ministry wrote in a statement.
U.S. health regulators regularly carry out inspections in Mexico to ensure any imports do not inadvertently end up spreading diseases that could harm crop yields in the U.S. In a translated tweet, the U.S. embassy in Mexico said it is working with the Mexican government to “guarantee security conditions that allow our personnel in Michoacán to resume operations.” It’s unclear how long the suspension will last.
A similar situation reportedly occurred back in 2019 when a U.S. Department of Agriculture team claimed they were directly threatened, the AP notes. In that case, the USDA warned future threats or attacks would lead the U.S. government to “immediately suspend program activities.” It appears U.S. regulators made good on that threat in the most recent case.
The sudden suspension, in effect, seals off the American avocado lovers and buyers from the fruit since Mexico accounts for the vast majority (around 90%) of U.S. avocado imports according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2020, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the U.S. imported around $2.4 billion worth of fresh avocados.
The U.S. actually represents the world’s second-largest producer of avocados, but domestic production can only satiate a sliver of America’s avocado appetite, which saw demand for the fruit reach new highs in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption of avocados has tripled in just the past two decades. To put that in perspective, the average American in 2018 consumed around 8 pounds of avocados per year, the USDA notes. That’s roughly the size of a large infant.
On the flip side, avocados are Mexico’s most lucrative crop exports so the country has an immense economic interest in seeing its avocados continue making their way across the border. The country has spent millions on its “Avocados from Mexico,” television ads, including several released during The Super Bowl. This year, the country’s 1:18 minute Super Bowl ad depicts Roman emperor Julius Caesar and a cadre of gladiators munching on avocados outside of the Colosseum.
Though it’s unclear how long the suspension will last, it’s possible it could lead to higher prices for the fruit which had already seen record-high prices in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.