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The Wages of Your Avocados

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You might think the avocado you love just comes from Mexico and it’s all good. But it is very much not all good. The whole avocado trade is wrapped up with the cartels and illegal deforestation that is decimating the Mexican forests.

A combination of interests, including criminal gangs, landowners, corrupt local officials and community leaders, are involved in clearing forests for avocado orchards, in some cases illegally seizing privately owned land. Virtually all the deforestation for avocados in the last two decades may have violated Mexican law, which prohibits “land-use change” without government authorization.

Since the United States started importing avocados from Mexico less than 40 years ago, consumption has skyrocketed, bolstered by marketing campaigns promoting the fruit as a heart-healthy food and year-round demand for dishes like avocado toast and California rolls. Americans eat three times as many avocados as they did two decades ago.

South of the border, satisfying the demand has come at a high cost, human rights and environmental activists say: the loss of forests, the depletion of aquifers to provide water for thirsty avocado trees and a spike in violence fueled by criminal gangs muscling in on the profitable business.

And while the United States and Mexico both signed a 2021 United Nations agreement to “halt and reverse” deforestation by 2030, the $2.7 billion annual avocado trade between the two countries casts doubts over those climate pledges.

Mexican environmental officials have called on the United States to stop avocados grown on deforested lands from entering the American market, yet U.S. officials have taken no action, according to documents obtained by Climate Rights International, a nonprofit focused on how human rights violations contribute to climate change.

In a new report, the group identified dozens of examples of how orchards on deforested lands supply avocados to American food distributors, which in turn sell them to major American supermarket chains.

Fresh Del Monte, one of the largest American avocado distributors, said the industry supported reforestation projects in Mexico. But, in a statement, the company also said that “Fresh Del Monte does not own farms in Mexico,” and relied on “industry collaboration” to ensure growers abided by local laws.

In other words, it’s all greenwashing bullshit.

As I have stated for a decade now, what is required is actual knowledge of the entire supply chain of every product with the legal mechanism to enforce the law. This stuff isn’t even really that hard. It just requires the political will and organizing to make it happen. And since the Mexican government is so deeply corrupt and broken and in fact ordering officials not to investigate the avocado farms, it has to happen through the trade laws. You can just shrug your shoulders and say that Mexicans need to figure this out. That’s just passing the buck. We are the consumers of it after all.

None of this even gets into the massive, totally unsustainable use of water for avocados, which is causing a whole other environmental disaster here at the same time that the deforestation ruins the ability of the land to soak in rain.

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