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Mexico drug war's latest victim: the lime

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Be it extorting farmers, attacking produce trucks, or causing more time-consuming border inspections, criminal gangs are affecting almost every link in the produce supply chain. From farmers to shippers to resellers to shoppers, the violence is affecting the food industry.

"There are security costs that companies have had to absorb," acknowledges Beatriz Léycegui, deputy minister at Mexico's Economy Ministry.

Cargo theft rose 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, says Refugio Muñoz Lopez, director general of the National Cargo Shipping Chamber. This caused theft insurance to increase about 30 percent for trucking companies. The government now offers escorts for trucks and warehouses storing sensitive products.

Security problems have affected the flow of produce into the United States. The Arizona Department of Agriculture stopped sending produce inspectors over the border to Sonora State in November because of the rise in drug-related murders. The shift of inspection operations into Arizona caused concern among importers in Nogales, Ariz., where 45 percent of all winter fruit consumed in the US crosses the border from Mexico.

"It just slows everything down, and the product is critical. We need to get it out because it's fresh produce," says Rick Valdez of produce broker C&R Fresh in Nogales. Mr. Valdez says limited floor space at new inspection stations has delayed his workers for hours. It may get worse after adding grapes to the list of imports in April, he notes.

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