Ottawa announces $28M to assist in P.E.I. potato wart crisis

·3 min read
Ottawa announces $28M to assist in P.E.I. potato wart crisis

Federal Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau has announced a $28-million plan to assist P.E.I. farmers affected by a trade suspension in fresh potatoes with the United States.

Bibeau made the announcement during a virtual news conference, accompanied by the Island's four MPs, on Monday morning.

"My message to farmers today is: We are here for you," she said.

"We know farmers need answers about what to do with their surplus product."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) suspended trade in fresh potatoes to the U.S. on Nov. 22. The move was in response to American concerns about the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields in October.

Some potatoes will be destroyed

The $28 million will partly be dedicated to getting potatoes to food banks. Money will also be available for farmers who need to destroy surplus potatoes.

"We know that we won't be able to divert all these potatoes and a significant quantity will have to be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner," said Bibeau.

"The only way to do that is to do that in the very cold season."

Potatoes will need to be destroyed during the winter to mitigate the risk of disease spreading.

Bibeau said the U.S. would not accept P.E.I. potatoes until they see the scientific proof they require that there is no threat of potato wart spreading to U.S. farms. On Friday, CFIA officials told a P.E.I. legislative committee the agency might not complete its investigation until 2023.

Department of Agriculture officials will be consulting with the P.E.I. Potato Board this week about eligibility for the new program, said Bibeau.

Premier welcomes support

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King thanked Ottawa for the announcement, saying the supports will be "critical" in diverting the potatoes to people who need them and preventing their destruction.

"These types of creative solutions are exactly what we need to do in the interim to move our excess potatoes until the U.S. market is reopened," King said in a statement.

The premier said that while the province is still waiting to for more details, such as the fund's eligibility criteria and how it will be administered, he was encouraged to hear Ottawa is taking the matter seriously.

"I am also reassured to hear from Minister Bibeau that this is a top priority for her government, and all levels of the federal government from Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau down are doing everything they can to reassure their American counterparts that our potatoes are safe," he said.

King has previously been critical of how the federal government has handled the issue. Last Thursday, the premier said during a trip to Washington, D.C. that Ottawa should "get rid of the silly B.S." and do more to put an end to the trade suspension.

King said the focus should now be on ensuring the CFIA collects the soil samples it needs to conclude its investigation into the potato wart discovery "without further delay," as well as convincing the U.S. the province successfully contains the fungus.

$120M in trade at stake

Wart was first detected in P.E.I. fields in 2000. A plan was developed to prevent the spread of the fungus that causes wart, in consultation with the U.S., and that plan has kept the border open since.

CFIA implemented the current suspension to prevent unilateral action by the U.S., which would be more difficult to reverse.

The P.E.I. Potato Board estimates trade with the U.S. would have been $120 million this season. With the ban already in place for four weeks, some of that trade is lost and cannot be recovered, the board says.

Potato wart is a serious agricultural pest, but is not a threat to human health.

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