Two people prepare a shipment of avocados on Thursday, January 26, 2023, in an orchard in Santa Ana Zirosto, Michoacán state, Mexico. (AP Photo/Armando Solis)
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A year after the Super Bowl era was marred by a ban on shipments of Mexican avocados, another supply threat has emerged: An environmental complaint that avocado farmers are destroying forests that they provide crucial habitat for monarch butterflies and other creatures.
The complaint, filed with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a trilateral body that is part of the Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada, accuses the Mexican government of not enforcing its own laws on deforestation, water conservation and land use. .
The avocado orchards develop at approximately the same altitude and climatic conditions as the pine and fir forests in the state of Michoacán, where the butterflies that migrate every year are concentrated. Farmers often clear the forest to plant avocados that will reach US consumers. Because they hibernate at higher altitudes, the butterflies are not directly affected by this, but the forests surrounding their mountaintop reserves are.
Julio Santoyo is part of a group of environmentalists in the town of Villa Madero, Michoacán, where activists have suffered kidnappings and threats for years from groups of illegal loggers, who cut down trees to establish unauthorized avocado orchards. Orchards require much more water than native pines.
Santoyo said he doesn’t know who filed the complaint, but he stands behind it.
“The complaint helps to put the problem on a horizon of greater visibility, and perhaps influence the generation of environmental standards that are required for its production” in the avocado sector, he said. “The truth is that it is well founded. The assertions correspond to the reality that we have been denouncing and with the events that continue to occur.”
Activists in Villa Madero say they regularly see strips of forest cleared and irrigation ponds dug to water avocado saplings. At least two activists have been kidnapped, threatened and beaten when they complained about deforestation.
Mexico has been the deadliest country in the world for environmental and land defense activists, according to a global survey conducted by the non-governmental group Global Witness, with 54 activists killed in 2021.
Avocado farmers also face threats in Michoacán, where they are often subject to extortion by drug cartels.
In a statement, the commission said it is not disclosing the name of the person or group that filed the complaint, presumably to protect them from retaliation.
The complaint “asserts that Mexico is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws to protect forest ecosystems and water quality from the adverse environmental impacts of avocado production in Michoacán, Mexico,” according to the office.
“It points out that Mexico is not enforcing clauses of the Mexican Constitution and various federal laws focused on environmental impact assessment, forest conservation, sustainable development, water quality, climate change and environmental protection,” it adds.
The complaint alleges that the number of orchards certified to export the fruit quadrupled between 2010 and 2021, from 14,181 to 63,559. The document says there are up to 280,000 hectares (half a million acres) of avocado orchards in this western Mexican state.
“This growth has been at the expense of forest land,” the complaint states.
The Michoacán avocado growers and packers association declined to comment on the complaint, but said it has supported reforestation efforts.
Shipments of avocados for consumption during the Super Bowl have already been shipped to the United States, so the complaint will not affect this year’s supply.
Last year, the US government briefly halted inspections of Mexican avocados, which it requires before receiving exports of the fruit. The inspections, carried out to ensure that Mexican avocados do not carry diseases or pests that could harm orchards in the United States, were suspended after one of the US inspectors was threatened for rejecting a shipment in Michoacán.
The inspections resumed a few days later, when both nations agreed to implement measures to ensure the safety of the inspectors.