March 4, 2008

Mexican avocado exporters sue California business group

The feud between Mexican and California avocado growers continues. As reported in “The Packer”:

Last year the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission unsuccessfully sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to keep out Mexican avocados because of concerns about armored scale insects.

Now, Mexican avocado exporters have two active lawsuits against California interests.

Following up on a January lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Avocado Producer and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán (APEAM) has filed a lawsuit against the California Avocado Commission, requesting an unspecified amount to compensate for what it called severe damage to the marketing of Mexican avocados in California caused by the commission in 2007. Tom Bellamore, senior vice president and corporate counsel for the California Avocado Commission, said APEAM essentially has refiled the case that was dismissed without prejudice last September. “It is the commission’s position that that those claims then lacked merit and still do today,” he said.

Mexican exporters had hoped to settle the matter out of court, but the avocado commission’s board rejected a settlement proposal, said Emiliano Escobedo, APEAM’s U.S. representative in Los Angeles. “We had definitely hoped that the lawsuits were behind us, but they unfortunately are not,” he said. “What we really want is to sell more avocados and not have to fight anyone in court.”
The lawsuit states that less than two months after Mexico began shipping avocados into California in early 2007 the commission created significant disruption to the market and “severely damaged the ability of Mexican growers and packers to market their fruit,” according to a press release from APEAM.

The lawsuit charges that the California Avocado Commission spread falsehoods and disparaged Mexican avocados in ways that significantly reduced sales. Dale McNiel, Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for APEAM, said the lawsuit alleges trade defamation, interference with contractual relations, interference with prospective economic advantage, negligence and unfair competition. “The gist of the matter is that CAC made numerous public defamatory statements about Mexican avocados which contributed to the severe drop in demand during 2007 and to some extent continuing into the future,” he said.

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