The CFIA order came after the discovery of potato wart in two fields
By Diego Flammini
P.E.I. potatoes will no longer be exported to the United States for the time being.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau suspended exports of fresh potatoes to the United States on Nov. 21 following the discovery of potato wart in two fields in October.
“This (ministerial) order is a responsible science-based approach that will provide the protection our industry needs domestically,” Bibeau said in a statement.
The suspension also comes after a Nov. 2 CFIA order halted exports of seed potatoes, meaning all P.E.I. potatoes cannot be exported to the United States.
These measures are expected to be in place until further notice.
Potato wart, which was first discovered in P.E.I. in 2000, is regulated under the Plant Protection Act. Under this law, detection of a disease like potato wart can result in various restrictions including movement controls.
After the first discovery, the U.S. closed its borders to P.E.I. potatoes for six months.
Potato wart is a soil borne disease caused by the Synchytrium endobioticum fungus.
The disease appears mainly on stolons and tubers. It reduces yield and can make potatoes unmarketable but isn’t a risk to human health.
In addition to the two discoveries this year, potato wart has been found in 33 P.E.I. potato fields since 2000.
And the Potato Wart Domestic Long Term Management Plan came into effect after the first instance of potato wart.
The plan outlines mandatory testing and surveillance activity to mitigate the spread of potato wart.
Canada is protecting itself by implementing these measures first.
The situation could’ve been worse for P.E.I. potato farmers in the U.S. applied the suspension, Bibeau said.
American authorities “made it clear that the U.S. would have imposed a federal order banning import of all fresh P.E.I. potatoes if Canada did not act first to suspend trade,” Bibeau told reporters Monday, adding U.S. rules would’ve been harder to navigate.
The provincial government and P.E.I.’s potato sector deemed the suspension unnecessary.
“I think it’s a wrong decision, it’s a knee-jerk reaction, it’s an overreaction and it’s something that needs to be changed immediately,” P.E.I. Premier Denis King told CBC. “This is me as a premier standing up for the most important industry in our province.”
None of the infected potatoes were destined for the U.S. and these actions could significantly affect the province’s $1.3 billion potato industry. Of that dollar volume, the U.S. accounts for a market size of about $120 million.
And closing access to that market will result in losses for farmers.
“If this suspension of exports is not reversed, it will necessitate the destruction of hundreds of millions of pounds of high-quality fresh potatoes, as potatoes are a perishable crop that cannot be stored indefinitely until market access is reopened,” The PEI Potato Board said in a statement. “This presents not only an enormous waste of nutritious food but also a potential environmental issue related to product disposal.”
The Conservatives have also criticized the federal government’s decision.
The Liberals made the suspension without any industry input, said John Barlow, the party’s ag critic.
“In classic Liberal fashion, this ban was made in the middle of the night, with no consultation, and no plan to support the workers impacted by this decision. This is the opposite of what the Liberals should be doing,” he said in a statement.
University of Maine Extension photo.