Potatoes in Canada

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Officials respond to the extended U.S. potato ban


November 25, 2021
By Potatoes in Canada

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The recent confirmation of potato wart in two Prince Edward Island fields has resulted in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) suspending seed potato exports from the Island to the United States. Similar safety measures were employed in 2020, when two other potato farms in P.E.I. were infected with potato wart; following confirmation from the CFIA that the disease had been eradicated in February 2021, U.S. borders were once again opened to P.E.I. seed potato shipments in March. However, this recent outbreak has caused the U.S. to close their borders to fresh potato shipments from the Island, too.

Bibeau’s response

On Nov. 22, Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, signed a Ministerial Order to restrict the movement of seed potatoes from P.E.I., and to introduce new risk mitigation measures for P.E.I. table stock and processing potatoes to ensure that potato wart does not spread to other parts of the country.

“Despite these plant health controls put in place by Canada, the United States also expressed serious concerns to Canada over the recent detections of potato wart in Prince Edward Island, and made it clear the U.S. also planned to impose a federal order banning imports of all fresh P.E.I. potatoes if Canada did not act first to suspend trade,” Bibeau said in an official statement.

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“We believe in the science, which tells us that the U.S. intention to suspend the trade of fresh potatoes from P.E.I. goes beyond what is necessary to mitigate risk. With the proper mitigation measures, the trade of table stock and processing potatoes remains absolutely safe.

“But in order to resume trade as quickly as possible and prevent the imposition of more damaging, long-term measures, we must engage with the United States’ concerns. Therefore, as of November 21, the CFIA has temporarily suspended trade of fresh potatoes from P.E.I. to the U.S. We do not take this measure lightly,” she added.

Bibeau also indicated that she will continue to raise the issue with her American counterpart in order to bring a speedy conclusion to the embargo, and that the governments are working on a plan to support potato growers impacted by this temporary market suspension.

Statement from the P.E.I. Potato Board

On Nov. 25, the P.E.I. Potato Board, on behalf of its more than 175 members, urged all Canadians to work together to protect potato farmers in the wake of the CFIA’s decision.

“Each year, our hard-working farmers, supported by their network of partners, deliver more than 270 million pounds of fresh and wholesome potatoes to the U.S.,” said Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, in a press release. “Over the past 20 years, there has not been a single incidence of potato wart – in any market – attributable to Prince Edward Island potatoes. We have faith in our potatoes, and so does everyone, even the minister of agriculture herself.”

The two detections of potato wart in fields were already under surveillance as part of globally accepted management protocols used since the first finding of potato wart in P.E.I. in 2000. According to the P.E.I. Potato Board, these potatoes were not going to be shipped to any market, including the United States or other Canadian province.

The board added that existing trade regulations require potatoes originating from P.E.I. to be washed and treated with a sprout inhibitor, which makes the risk of spreading potato wart negligible.

The P.E.I. Potato Board called for an immediate reversal of government-imposed restrictions on the movement of fresh potatoes, asking representatives on both sides of the border to resolve this issue promptly.

P.E.I. Premier’s response

On Nov. 24, Dennis King, P.E.I.’s Premier, said that, “While we have trouble accepting the decision that was made on Monday to limit the export of potatoes to the U.S., our focus has now shifted to finding a resolution to this situation as soon as possible.

“I have spoken with dozens of industry officials, political leaders, as well as potato producers and family farmers over the last 48 hours and will continue to do so in the days ahead. I have expressed to each one of them my unwavering commitment to do whatever it takes to re-open the U.S. border to our world-class P.E.I. potatoes.”

King mentioned that he’s spoken with the Consul General of Canada in Boston, Rodger Cuzner, and the U.S. Consul General, Lyra Carr, to provide them with a detailed review of P.E.I.’s potato safety management plan, which was developed in partnership with the CFIA and approved by the USDA and has allowed for trade between Canada and the U.S. for the last 20 years.

“I am in contact daily with our Island MPs and appreciate their unwavering support for the agriculture industry in Prince Edward Island,” King said in an official statement. “They are working hard, both here in P.E.I. and in Ottawa with Minister Bibeau as we know that a resolution to this current situation will only be found through a co-ordinated and unified effort.”

King said that a situation table has been established to seek opportunities to reverse this decision and support the province’s agriculture industry in the interim. The table is comprised of officials from a variety of governmental branches, the P.E.I. Potato Board, and former MP Wayne Easter, who has been advising the provincial government on this situation for the last few weeks.

“This group is developing a plan for the days and weeks ahead that will ensure the agriculture industry is supported during these challenging times while looking for any opportunity to have this decision reversed,” he added.