Canada's new agriculture minister says he can't lift a ministerial order banning seed potatoes from leaving Prince Edward Island just yet.
Lawrence MacAulay spoke about the potato seed ban with CBC News Wednesday, as the federal Liberal cabinet retreat was taking place in Charlottetown.
The minister, who represents the P.E.I. riding of Cardigan, said there's "nothing more" he would like than lift the order, but that there are steps he needs to take before he can do that.
"I would sit down with the potato producers, the potato marketing board, and everybody else involved in the industry in order to see the path forward," MacAulay said. "But you have to have a science-based system in place in order to do something like that."
Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of agriculture, says he understands that seed potato farmers are struggling. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
The ban has been in place since the fall of 2021, when potato wart was discovered in some Island fields.
The fungus disfigures potatoes and sharply reduces crop yield, but is not harmful to humans.
The border reopened to P.E.I. fresh potatoes on April 1, 2022. But seed potatoes are still prohibited from leaving the Island.
Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced it had finished its investigation into potato wart on P.E.I. Staff collected and analyzed nearly 50,000 soil samples from fields associated with the detections of the fungus.
That process led to potato wart being identified in four additional fields. Agency officials said that's not surprising in investigations of this scale.
'We do have very safe potatoes'
The P.E.I. Potato Board said the investigation's results were proof of what they always knew: That potato wart was never rampant or widespread in the province.
"With all the different surveillance that's going on on the Island, it just shows that we do have very safe potatoes and it's under control," said John Visser, board chair and a potato farmer.
Visser said he was optimistic negotiations to lift the order would start as soon as possible.
MacAulay said he has no timeline for when the order could be lifted, but that he understands it's hurting farmers.