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In time for Super Bowl, AP explores uneasy Mexican avocado trade

Avocados grow at left on denuded slopes that once held pine and fir trees in Zacapu, bordering the pine forest in the Indigenous township of Cheran, Michoacan state, Mexico, Jan. 20, 2022. Because of the immense amount of water they require, the expansion of avocados has come at the expense of humid pine forests. (AP Photo / Fernando Llano)

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Mexico City reporter Mark Stevenson took advantage of a temporary U.S. ban on Mexican avocado imports to explain, to an international audience of guacamole-crazed readers, the social strife, environmental impact and political forces at play in Mexico’s avocado industry.

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A worker selects avocados at a packing plant in Uruapan, Mexico, Feb. 16, 2022. – AP Photo / Armando Solis

Stevenson’s weeklong flurry of five stories started on Super Bowl Sunday with a piece about Mexico acknowledging that a U.S. plant safety inspector had been threatened in Mexico,prompting the U.S. government to suspended imports of the country’s avocados. The piece ended up being the top-performing story on AP News, exceeding even the Super Bowl and the march toward war in the Ukraine. With more than a half-million pageviews it became AP’s top story of the week — propelled in part by Mexican avocado producers’ own Super Bowl advertising.

Stevenson followed with a story about Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador attributing the suspension to a conspiracy, citing vague “political interests.” Then came a nuanced piece explaining how Mexico’s avocado industry is vulnerable to international backlash as more attention is given to the environmental impact and social inequities that surround the fruit’s production in Michoacan state. A Wall Street Journal reporter who until recently was based in Mexico City tweeted:

Stevenson had plenty of context for that story: At the end of the January he was part of an all-formats team that explored the intersection of avocados,deforestation and organized crime in Michoacan.

Continuing his blitz, the following day Stevenson dove into how the suspension would affect not only U.S. shoppers but could drive diversification of the supply chain. And finally, he reported Friday that the U.S. was resuming imports immediately, satisfied that the Mexican government was taking the issue seriously.

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