Update: See the very interesting comment by Dan.
When the California Avocado Commission objected to federal government plans to expand the amount of Mexican avocados imported into the USA and the range of destinations to which they could be shipped–a policy just implemented last month–critics claimed that the domestic avocado growers were concerned only about market competition. The Commission, which we growers fund by a tax on all Hass avocados that we sell,* always claimed that its (our) opposition was based on legitimate concerns over pests found in Mexico and other countries that we do not (currently) have here in California. Of course, producers who will be subject to import competition always make such “objective” claims, so those who are not the producers always have good reason to be skeptical that opposition to expansion of imports is just protectionism based in economic self-interest.
Well, it turns out growers’ fears are real. While the incidence of armored scale in a recent shipment inspected by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was less than initially reported, the pest is indeed arriving on shipments from the south. The CDFA and the federal officials are currently disputing whether armored scale is a sufficiently serious pest to lead to a ban on shipments. So, this policy issue has a federalist dimension to it, with the state agency being more supportive of producers who are concentrated in its state and the federal agency being more attuned to broader trade interests (exactly as we would expect).
The Mexican government in the past has threatened retaliation against imports of US-grown agricultural products if the liberalization of avocado imports is curtailed. So this policy issue certainly has an international-relations, two-level-games dimension.**
There is little doubt that the armored scale could be a serious pest if it ever were to be released somehow from a shipment of fruit and find its way into a grove in California. Because scale do not move much, the threat is not as great as with other pests like the fruit fly. But the threat is significant. For one thing, there is currently no US-approved pesticide that would combat this type of scale for conventional growers, let alone for those of us who are organic. Most of our current scale problem (from other species) is kept in check by biological controls (natural predators, such as wasps, that are released in groves). But there is currently no known predator for the armored scale. It is likely that such a predator exists in Mexico or elsewhere, but is currently being killed by broad-spectrum pesticides being sprayed in Mexican groves. (Broad-spectrum pesticides kill good bugs as well as bad; the bad bugs often are better at developing resistance and thus surviving chemical warfare than are the good bugs.)
Please buy California and organic avocados if you can!
* Especially for my students: An excellent case of what I mean by “coercion” of collective action. In order to sell our products legally, we individual growers must pay this tax to support the Avocado Commission’s collective goods of research, marketing, and, yes, lobbying, on behalf of our interests.
** By targeting other US products for import restrictions, the Mexican government could engage domestic actors on this side of the border who otherwise would not care about avocados in opposing limits on avocado imports.