How Drug Cartels and Federal Import Restrictions May Cancel Your Guacamole Plans

Almost all of America’s avocados come from a single Mexican state. A threatening message threw it into disarray.


A single "threatening message" was all it took to stop all shipments of avocados from the world's biggest grower—Mexico—to the world's biggest consumer—The United States.

At the same time that Americans were watching advertisements for Mexican avocados during the Super Bowl, the United States Department of Agriculture was putting a halt to all avocado imports from Mexico, raising the potential prospect of nationwide shortages or price hikes. Start hoarding guacamole now, fans.

This is not just a wild story about the unexpected impacts of dangerous Mexican drug cartel behavior. It's also a tale of how complex food regulations and touchy import agreements can lead to overly fragile supply chains.

Here's what happened: America has an agreement with Mexico from 1997 to allow the import of Hass avocados from the State of Michoacán in Mexico. Of the 32 states that make up Mexico, only Michoacán has such an import agreement. The U.S. does not allow avocados in from any other Mexican state, though the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is hoping that avocado exports from bordering state Jalisco will begin later this year.

The Washington Post reports that an inspector found avocados at a facility that were from a state other than Michoacán that had been prepared for import to the United States. That's not allowed. People from that facility then reportedly attempted to intimidate the inspector, and so the inspectors left and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down all Mexican avocado imports into the United States.

Americans consume half of all avocados in the entire world market, according to a report from the Hass Avocado Board, an independent industry marketing group. Only a small percentage of those avocados, 15 percent, are grown domestically. The United States imports more than 80 percent of its avocados from Mexico.

Mexican drug cartels have been pushing further and further into the conventional agriculture market, attempting to fix prices to drive up revenue. There are even gang turf wars over limes and avocados. Given the situation, it would seem like a recipe for trouble to put all our import avocados in one basket—or just one Mexican state, as it were.

Michoacán does have thousands of avocado orchards and dozens of avocado packers who meet the USDA's regulatory restrictions to export to the United States. But, nevertheless, clearly there's a problem when a single security issue could halt an entire import category. Avocados may seem a bit low stakes—even the jokes about millennial love of spreading it on toast are old and tired—but this will disrupt thousands of jobs and could wreck a lot of livelihoods.

Why, after 25 years, is importation still stuck in just one state? Federal regulations include very extensive inspection processes to prevent weevils and fruit flies from being imported into the U.S. A spokesperson from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service explains to Reason, "This compliance safeguards the United States against the introduction of economically significant quarantine pests that could be damaging to U.S. agriculture and the U.S. environment. Avocados from other Mexican states are not currently part of the certification program and therefore are not currently enterable into the United States."

Given that the U.S. is the primary consumer of avocados in the entire world, it should come as no surprise that Michoacán has also become the biggest grower of avocados within Mexico itself. There's much less of an incentive to grow as many avocados in other Mexican states because they can't be sent to our market.

It also explains the very high incentive for predatory players to try to force their way into this process. Just before the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Times noted that the explosion of avocado growth in Michoacán state has led to deforestation and drug cartel bloodshed. The story notes how America's love of guacamole is helping fuel the problem but doesn't contend with how our import restrictions are essentially helping force the hands of Mexican growers.

When the regulations to participate in a market are costly and complex, only big firms can provide goods and services while everyone else is left to make their money on the black market. If more avocado growers across Mexico could send their products to the U.S., there'd be fewer arbitrage opportunities for cartels, more evenly distributed profits across the country, and more guacamole for us.

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  1. >>Americans consume half of all avocados in the entire world market

    I may be the consumer leader of daily intake. can they find something else to fight about?

    1. No! We must have global avocado redistribution!

      1. if they grow in Mexico they'll grow in Texas. I'll plant some in the backyard next to my corn and OG kush

        1. Sounds like a business opportunity. Especially if you can cross-breed the avocado and kush.

            1. Oh, daddy this taste like grandma.

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              2. top twenty episode.

        2. Actually California is the biggest domestic producer. I'm sure they will grow in Texas too, but California is king of the specialty crops. You have most of San Diego County, plus numerous orchards going all the way up to Fresno County. Wine on the west, avocados on the east, fruits down the middle.

          1. Akshually

          2. found out at lunch it will be 2 years before I can eat anything off my tree too. bummer.

  2. "Almost all of America’s avocados come from a single Mexican state."

    Interesting. I guess cost-effective labor is not the only thing the US imports from Mexico.


    1. That Mexican state just happens to be California . . .

  3. Guacamole >>> rogue bureaucrats spying on elected representatives.


    1. I've got an idea! Why not pick some news story that's important to you that Reason hasn't covered, and then ascribe motivations to Reason as to why they haven't covered it! A bionic strawman!

      1. I've got an idea! Why not defend the reason writers now, so when they're proven wrong and turned to fools in a few weeks you'll look like an idiot! Again!

        They've only been wrong about the ENTIRE Russian hoax, the Mueller report, masking, vaccine effectiveness, therapeutic effectiveness, protests, January 6th, voting for Biden, etc, etc.

      2. I just like to redirect our libertarian commenters to libertarian sources.

        Critical race theory has no place in the classroom
        Teachers in Brighton are being trained to see their pupils as potential white supremacists.

        Critical race theory has no place in the classroom
        ‘Children are not racially innocent… [They] attach value to skin colour; white at the top of the hierarchy and black at the bottom.’ No, this is not an extract from a racist screed — it is how teachers in Brighton are being taught to view their youngest pupils.

      3. Fiona up next to write that avocados needs to be individually hand carried into the United States.

        1. That would at least involve individual liberty, in a very circumspect way. Versus the article as it stands, which does not involve individual liberties, or the denial thereof. And, is too local.

    2. These editors are probably eating a lot of avocado toast with their Starbucks everyday so, yes. -Priorities!

  4. The two things I throw away the most are tomatoes and avocados. I buy them and forget to use them. A few days later they're ready for the garbage can.

    1. Interesting because I accidentally got turned on to rotten avocados. My late housemate would buy them, and I'd put them where I was the only one looking. I didn't like avocados. But then I tried one of these in such a state, and found that when the inside was runny and maybe a bit sour, it made a kind of salad dressing on its own.

      But yeah, the tomatoes are a problem, not because I forget but because I can eat only so many at a time. Right now I have some plum tomatoes and avocados on top of the refrigerator, because Shop Rite had a special deal on 5 avocados at a time; this time I might actually wind up throwing some out along with some tomatoes. I didn't wind up using as many tomatoes for salad with company this weekend as I thought I might.

      1. I saw the post when you originally said that about avocados. I'm normally open minded when it comes to food, but I draw the line at rotten stuff. Thanks for the suggestion though.

    2. Like rights to produce and trade. If those Mexican drug cartels exist and have so much money, why aren't they backing Libertarian Party candidates to repeal laws that make a crime of production and trade? They could export freedom into These States the way the Monroe Doctrine looter Kleptocracy exports communo-fascist meddling into their "sovereign" jurisdiction and creates Hoover-Villas!

  5. O/T - Enes Kanter Freedom is no longer in the NBA. I'm going to continue my near-lifelong practice of not watching the NBA.

    And Fuck China.

    1. free the Uighurs! and Hong Kong. and Tibet ...

    2. Bravest guy in the NBA

  6. I will say the Guac coverage at Reason has been top tier.

    1. Can't have a cocktail party without it.

    2. If Biden is ever impeached, it won't be because of he and his sons illegal dealings in China, or Ukraine, or Russia. It won't be his own daughter accusing him of molestation. It won't be all the racist things he's said and legislation he's sponsored. It won't even be because of his cognitive decline.

      It will be because of the avocado's.

    3. Gotta stay relevant with the hip kids.

  7. How did this trivial piece of vegetation displace the HORRIFIC story of BACON BANS in DC??!!!

    1. Brazilians produce smoked pork tenderloins they call "copa." If bacon had one wish it'd be high-protein, low-fat Brazilian copa. Surely there's a reason obese Superbowl couch potatoes never hear about (much less get to buy) such products.

  8. You can't hoard guacamole. If it isn't freshly made it is crap.

  9. Clearly the US needs harsher laws making a crime of production and trade. Then after those laws are exported via bribes, subsidies, the DEA, GAFISUD, CIA and the UN, and all their economies collapse into Hoovervilles, maybe then we repeal the Nixon anti-libertarian law.

  10. Unasked in this article but it seems very relevant - have these border controls actually prevented the arrival of weevils and fruit flies in the US?

    From what I can see, the controls failed - probably before the 1997 controls were originally implemented but certainly since then.

  11. So, from the tenor of the article, I guess Reason thinks that there should be no border restrictions for such trivial things like agricultural pests and that we should have a laissez-faire border in all respects.

    1. Not the vibe I got at all. It sounds like there are not enough US government inspectors in other States and that has concentrated corruption in Michiocan. Government is too incompetent and too corrupt to perform its most basic functions

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