US orgs urge ban on Mexican avocados linked to deforestation

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US orgs urge ban on Mexican avocados linked to deforestation

More than 25 organizations urged the U.S. State Department to stop imports of avocados linked to recent deforestation in Mexico. Illegal deforestation is imperiling monarch butterfly habitat, the letter says, and the issue undermines international pledges made by both countries to halt these practices.

An estimated 10 football fields of forest in Mexico are cleared every day to create avocado plantations, says the message, distributed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Billions of pounds of avocado a year

Mexico is the largest U.S. supplier of avocados, referred to as “green gold” due to its economic value and its rapidly growing international demand. Mexico supplied almost 90% of the fruit sold in the United States in 2018, the letter shares.

Over the past four years, Mexico has provided 88.4%, about 2.3 billion pounds a year, of imported avocados in the United States, according to USDA data. 

In 2023, the U.S. imported over 2.4 billion pounds of fresh Mexican avocados, a record number that has been on the rise in recent years.  That number represents $2.7 billion in value. 

“U.S. avocado imports are fueling deforestation just when we desperately need intact forests to fight the biodiversity and climate crises,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Most people in the United States would be horrified to learn that their avocado toast and Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo parties come at such a devastating cost to monarchs and forests. Halting imports of avocados from recently deforested areas would help protect Mexico’s wildlife and uphold our global forest-protection pledges.”

Threats to local communities and inspectors

Avocados are a water-intensive crop, the letter adds, and meeting irrigation demand depletes water sources for local communities and leaves remaining native forests vulnerable to fire and disease.

The group letter also details threats to government inspectors as well as violence against local community members who oppose deforestation.

“Forests, monarchs and local communities will fare a lot better if we curb avocado imports from recently deforested land,”  Sanerib said. “We shouldn’t be purchasing and promoting products linked to illegal activity. Instead, we need a system that rewards law-abiding avocado growers with access to the U.S. market while shutting out bad actors.”

Many Mexican growers have created legal, long-standing avocado farms that could continue to supply the United States if avocados from recently deforested lands are banned, the group argues.

Stopping imports of harmful avocados would also aid monarch butterflies, which environmental groups say desperately need protection.

Monarchs are currently a candidate species for U.S. Endangered Species Act protection. This year’s overwintering monarch population was the second-lowest ever recorded, the letter explains, and the population is only a sixth of the size scientists say is needed to avoid migratory collapse. 

Related articles: Mexican avocado industry says its committed to sustainability and forest preservation

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