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Avocado imports stop, prompting menu adjustments at local restaurants

The U.S. has stopped accepting Avocados from Mexico, after a cartel member threatened an American health inspector.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio restauranteurs are preparing for avocado prices to climb now that the U.S. will not accept the fruits from Mexico. 

In a statement, the Mexican department of agriculture says the U.S. suspended imports of the fruit "until further notice" after a suspected cartel member threatened an American health inspector working in the western state of Michoacán.

"We are working with (Mexico) to guarantee security conditions that allow our personnel in Michoacán to resume operations," the U.S. Embassy in Mexico tweeted in Spanish Sunday. "Facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to (the U.S.) and ensuring the safety of our agricultural inspection teams go hand in hand."

Mexico produces most of the avocados Americans eat. The industry earns almost $3 billion each year. 

Drug cartels seek to control the fruit's trade as it grows more popular. A Mexican investigation found that gangs, for years, used government data to locate, kidnap, and extort Avocado farmers in the western region. 

"They're hostages," chef Johnny Hernandez told KENS 5 Monday. "The growers and the small businesses... it affects their livelihood."

Hernandez says his 11 restaurants have enough Avocados stocked to continue operations normally for two weeks. It's not the first time he's cooked through an Avocado shortage, he adds. 

But he expects prices to almost immediately soar. He'll need to order more produce in a week. 

"It'll start affecting prices tomorrow," he said, projecting a 50 percent increase. "We're already dealing with labor and supply issues... That is going to compound everything." 

His restaurants can source the fruits from other parts of the world, but Hernandez fears those producers will rush harvests to capitalize on high demand. 

"They're going to try to fill the demand with bad avocados," he said, adding that he'll cut the fruit from his menu before he pays more for a bad product.

For now, he'll remove avocado from plates that don't absolutely require the fruit. But there is no way to substitute for the "green gold" in recipes that need it, he says.

"There's a few things that we can lean on for the next week to two weeks, and then it's going to get very difficult," he said. 

A spokesperson for H-E-B says the grocer, for now, does not anticipate the import ban to affect availability. 

It's not clear how long the U.S. will wait before resuming the trade.

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