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Mexican avocados shipped for Super Bowl named in complaint


MEXICO CITY — A year after Super Bowl season was marred by a ban on Mexican avocado shipments, another threat has emerged: an environmental complaint that avocado growers are destroying forests that provide critical habitat for monarch butterflies and other creatures.

The complaint, filed with the Trilateral Commission on Environmental Cooperation, part of the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement, accuses the Mexican government of failing to enforce its own laws on deforestation, water conservation and land use.

Avocado orchards grow at about the same elevation and climate conditions as Michoacan’s pine and spruce forests, where migrating butterflies congregate each year. Growers often clear jungles to plant avocados for American consumers. The butterflies, because they hibernate at higher elevations, are not directly threatened, but the forests around their mountaintop reserves are.

Julio Santoyo is part of a group of environmental activists in the town of Villa Madero, Michoacan, where activists have suffered for years from kidnappings and threats from illegal logging gangs clearing land for unauthorized avocado groves. The orchards need much more water than the native pines.

Santoyo said he doesn’t know who filed the complaint, but he supports it.

“The complaint helps to make the problem more visible and can help create environmental regulations that are needed in the avocado industry,” said Santoyo. “The truth is that it is well founded, and the points it raises are those we have complained about and are still occurring.”

Activists in Villa Madero say they regularly see areas of forest being cleared and irrigation ponds being dug to water avocado trees. At least two activists have been kidnapped, threatened and beaten as they complained about the deforestation.

Mexico has been the deadliest place in the world for environmental and land defense activists, with 54 dead by 2021, according to a global survey by the non-governmental group Global Witness.

Avocado farmers are also under threat in Michoacan, where they are routinely subject to extortion by drug cartels.

A commission statement said the individual or group who filed a complaint will not be released, presumably to protect them from reprisal.

The complaint “alleges Mexico’s failure to effectively enforce its environmental laws to protect forest ecosystems and water quality from the adverse environmental impacts of avocado cultivation in Mexico’s Michoacán,” the agency said.

It “alleges that Mexico is not enforcing the provisions of the Mexican constitution and several federal laws that focus on environmental impact assessment, forest conservation, sustainable development, water quality, climate change and environmental protection.”

The complaint alleges that the number of orchards certified to export fruit quadrupled between 2010 and 2021, from 14,181 to 63,559. The document says there are as many as 280,000 acres of avocado orchards in the western state.

“This growth has come at the expense of the forests,” the complaint states.

The Association of Michoacan Avocado Packers and Growers declined to comment on the complaint, but said it supported the reforestation efforts.

Shipments of avocados for consumption during the Super Bowl have already been sent north, so the complaint will not affect this year’s supply.

Last year, the United States briefly halted inspections of Mexican avocados required to export the fruit. The inspections, which were carried out to ensure that Mexican avocados do not contain any diseases or pests that would harm US orchards, were halted after one of the US inspectors was threatened with refusing a shipment to Michoacan.

Inspections resumed after a few days, when both countries agreed to take measures to ensure the safety of the inspectors.

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