On February 11, 2022, the U.S. government administered a temporary ban on the inspection of avocados imported from Michoacán, Mexico. Why? Mexico supplies 80 percent of the United States’ avocados, and with the fruit becoming a dietary staple among Americans, this seemed to be a risky move. According to The Boston Globe, the suspension was implemented “after a U.S. plant safety inspector received a credible death threat while working in Michoacán.” In response to this, Mexican avocado farmers promised to increase security measures for U.S. inspectors in the future, and thus the ban was lifted. Though it was short-lived, the ban concerned both workers in the avocado industry and U.S. consumers who were fearful of shortages and price increases. What would we do without our beloved avocado toast? Maybe we should be asking deeper questions about this delicious food, focusing on where it comes from and why its farmers are being threatened and exploited.

Avocados, or “green gold,” as they are referred to in Mexico, are an important crop for the country. With exports to the United States totaling $2.8 billion in 2021, the industry seems to be doing better than ever, but at what cost? This topic first caught my attention in my environmental studies class, which examines the way humans interact with plants and our environment. During a lecture on avocados, I realized that I was not only ignorant of the harmful environmental effects produced by these fruits, but also the way in which farmers are exploited by corrupt policies and the Mexican cartel. While discussing the export of avocados, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, said, “The truth is, there’s always an economic, a commercial interest behind it.” As more than half of our fresh fruits and around a third of our fresh vegetables are imported from other countries, the American population needs to become more aware of the food trade and how it reflects both domestic and global policies. Avocados specifically have large impacts on the environment and society as a whole, with many potential consequences.

Though many Mexican farmers have benefited from the growth of the avocado industry, organized crime groups like those rampant in Michoacán have seen the profits and want in. Threatened with the potential of losing a family member or getting killed themselves, local farmers are forced to either pay a large fee to these cartels or attempt to defend themselves. Some farmers have created local self-defense groups to protect their land, which is necessary in order to maintain some control of their profits. A member of one defense group called Pueblos Unidos in San José de Chuén, Michoacán said that “it’s cheaper to buy a gun than to pay them a fee.” This is both alarming and quite sad. Farmers already work hard enough just to make a living for themselves, and should not have to fight for their rights and for their safety. Those who don’t defend themselves are victims of exploitation and are forced to pay lower wages to their workers. On top of this, avocados are extremely damaging to the environment, as they have motivated mass deforestation and thus contributed to climate change.

The controversy surrounding avocados is not confined to Mexico, and reflects how money-hungry and toxic the United States can be regarding food imports. The U.S. government does not bat an eye at labor exploitation in Mexico in order to receive low prices for avocados and enhance profits. Maplecroft, a self-described global risk intelligence company, wrote on its website that there is an “inherent weakness of Mexican institutions when it comes to enforcement,” meaning that companies will never be able to fully regulate production. This leaves Mexican farmers to fend for themselves while supplying a whole country with its favorite fruit. It’s not fair, and it’s hypocritical.

The U.S. population needs to become more aware of the effects of imported food on societies and the environment before these resources become unavailable. Following our current path, the future of avocado production looks bleak. One Facebook page named “Blood Avocados” has been advocating for a certification process that could effectively guarantee consumers that avocados were produced ethically without the involvement of cartels. However, this cannot be implemented unless we raise the price of avocados, which no one is really in favor of. Some have resorted to boycotting avocados completely, but I’m not sure that this will benefit the farmers in Mexico who are relying on avocado sales as a source of income. Americans need to become more aware of the labor behind food production in general in order to better understand how to prevent corruption and exploitation, which is common in such a capitalistic system. Next time you complain about the price of avocados, think of the farmers who grew them and what they had to do to protect their livelihoods, and maybe don’t buy them as often as you used to.

Alexandra Medina is a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.