HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Nearly a week ago, the United States suspended its avocado trade with Mexico after an inspector was threatened, and now diners and shoppers are feeling the pinch.
U.S. SUSPENDED TRADE WITH MEXICO OVER AVOCADOS JUST DAYS BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said trade with Mexico over its avocados was suspended on Feb.11. It stems from an incident involving one of its inspectors.
The USDA said the inspector wouldn't clear a crop of avocados. Shortly after, he and his family received a threatening phone call.
In 2020, the USDA said an inspector was murdered in northern Mexico, prompting the U.S. to cut off ties until changes were made.
Luis Chaparro, a freelance journalist, said he was shocked the U.S. took this step because the cartel has been involved in avocados for a few years, especially around the Super Bowl.
"The avocado becomes what they call the 'green gold.' That's what the local farmers call it because it becomes very, very expensive and valuable," Chaparro explained.
Chaparro said the cartel extorts avocado farmers. It's ramped around the Super Bowl because that's when more avocados are sent to the U.S.
"Right now they need money," Chaparro said. "They need money to keep that war by arming and funding themselves."
The USDA told ABC13 there is no time frame on when the suspension will be lifted, but it's working to make improvements.
AVOCADO SUSPENSION BEING FELT BY HOUSTON MEXICAN RESTAURANTS
Businesses like Tony's Mexican Restaurant in northwest Houston rely heavily on avocados.
"Avocados are very, very important," the restaurant's kitchen manager, Marcus Cotera, said. "They hit almost every single one of our dishes."
It's a vegetable that has become more of a delicacy.
"It's already starting to come through our vendors that the price is going to be different, but if it goes on for a few weeks, it's really going to be hurting, and it's going to be hard to find," Cotera said.
The restaurant said the price of avocados has gone up by 20%.
"It's alarming, really," the restaurant's assistant manager, Tony Vega, said. "Shocking. What are we going to do?"
But, it's not just restaurants.
"Distributors have been telling me it's going to be hitting Walmart, Kroger and all the other grocery stores around town," Cotera said.
AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO MAKE UP THE MAJORITY OF THE CROP CONSUMED BY AMERICANS
The USDA said America's reliance on Mexico for avocados has grown substantially. Prior to 2007, Chile was the lead avocado distributor to the U.S, but now it's Mexico, and it's not even close.
In 2021, the U.S. imported $3 billion avocados globally, with $2.8 billion coming from Mexico.
More Americans are eating the crop. The amount consumed in the U.S. has tripled to eight pounds per person, according to the USDA.
"I was really disappointed because we use it so much here, and it's really important that we get them from Mexico because they have really good flavor from that area," Cotera said.