Lime shortage blamed on crop shortage and drug cartel

A slice of lime is just a garnish for many, but a shortage of the green citrus fruit linked to bad weather, tree worm infestations and a Mexican drug cartel is putting the squeeze on many restaurants and bars in Canada.

Prices for the sour green fruit have skyrocketed, putting the squeeze on bars and restaurants

A worker unloads limes at a packing plant in La Ruana, in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. North American bars are facing rising prices for the citrus fruit. (The Associated Press)

A slice of lime is just a garnish for many, but a shortage of the green citrus fruit linked to bad weather, tree worm infestations and a Mexican drug cartel is putting the squeeze on many restaurants and bars in Canada.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant & Foodservices Association, says up until a few months ago cases of limes were being sold for $30 to $40.

Now, cases are being sold for up to $200.

Tostenson says weather destroyed this season's lime crop in Florida, forcing suppliers to rely on sources in Mexico.

But poor weather in Mexico and the outbreak of a citrus tree disease called huanglongling hit crops there too, and then a Mexican drug cartel called the Knights Templar stepped in, driving up prices even further.  

"They've had some challenges with weather, but also because of the worldwide shortage, cartels got involved. The drug lords are now controlling the supply to a certain extent in some of the provinces in Mexico."

The green citrus fruits are largely grown in one specific region of Mexico: the state of Michoacán, in the country's southwest.

While local militias backed by the lime farmers have been battling the cartel, the price of limes has been skyrocketing.

Across North America, bars and restaurants have been looking for alternatives to the pricey sour squeeze.

At the Red Burrito on Vancouver's Commercial Drive, Marcella Nielsen says a dash of lime is a staple in Mexican cooking.  

But with the cost skyrocketing, recipes are being adjusted, and customers are being offered a squeeze of lemon instead.

"We just tell them that the price went really, really high, so we cannot really provide them limes. So we have to change to lemons or raise our prices. They don't want to pay extra, so we just change it for now," says Nielsen.

"But a lot of customers don't really want lemon ... and a lot of them ... they say no."

With files from Emily Elias

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