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IRVINE, Calif. - A proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow Mexican avocados to be imported to all 50 states is being seen as the pits by California growers, who fear the imported product will flood the market and introduce several pests, including fruit flies, seed moths, and weevils, into the United States.
The USDA has proposed allowing growers from the Mexican state of Michoacan to export avocados to all 50 states year-round. Currently they are allowed to export avocados to 31 northeastern and north-central states six months every year. Both regions grow the Hass variety of avocado.
"The USDA has the proposal out, but it is uncertain what they will decide and when they will decide it, but it is fairly likely that some sort of expansion of the program will occur," Tom Bellamore, s.v.p. of the California Avocado Commission here, told Progressive Grocer. "What is difficult to predict is whether states like California and Florida [which grow avocados] or their bordering states will be included. In the past the department has used kind of a buffer zone approach in pest issues like this."
If an expansion does occur, Bellamore said it's safe to assume there will be an increase in the aggregate supply of fresh Hass avocados available in the United States. Last year Mexico shipped a little over 90 million pounds of avocados to market. "It's entirely possible that Mexico, with an increased shipping period and additional states, could ship 150 million or maybe as much as 200 million pounds," Bellamore said.
"But our primary concern is the pests that are present there in the growing region and continue to be detected each year by the USDA," he continued. "There are a variety of pests, some that are avocado-specific, and other insects, like fruit flies."
The USDA claims the imports will cut the price of American avocados and save consumers $111 million, but growers question the USDA's motives. "The Mexican government, and to some degree the Mexican avocado industry, has been quite aggressive in seeking expanded access and expanded market opportunities here in the U.S.," Bellamore said. "It's clear that over the years we've seen this issue become politicized, and most of that is derived from interests on the part of the Mexican government to open up bilateral trade. So sometimes decisions are made that have very little to do with avocados actually, but they may provide some relief in a quid pro quo when trade moves in an opposite direction in some other commodity. Our growers feel that the USDA should be working for U.S. growers, and yet they seem to be interested in facilitating trade deals."