P.E.I. Potato Board says Ottawa should reduce restrictions on domestic potato trade

·3 min read
On Thursday, the P.E.I. Potato Board expressed its frustration to a committee of Island MLAs with regards to the lack of progress.   (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
On Thursday, the P.E.I. Potato Board expressed its frustration to a committee of Island MLAs with regards to the lack of progress. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. Potato Board says the federal government should reduce the scope of a ministerial order restricting the movement of Island potatoes across Canada while a ban on exports of such potatoes to the U.S. remains in place.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency(CFIA) banned the export of potatoes from P.E.I. on Nov. 21 in response to American concerns around the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields.

On Wednesday, the CFIA met with its American counterpart, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency, as part of a regular technical discussion on how to find a resolution to the ban.

The CFIA said among the topics discussed, it brought up the results of a 2021 survey which found no potato wart in over 1,000 soil samples collected across Canada.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

But there's little indication a resolution to the issue is closer at hand, with the agency saying the survey data was not expected to solve the situation by itself.

On Thursday, the board expressed its frustration with regards to the lack of progress to a committee of Island MLAs.

"I don't even know how [potato producers] plan on whether they're going to plant this spring," general manager Greg Donald said. "If you're a seed grower, you've lost all your markets. Do you plan to double down without knowing whether you're going to sell those potatoes?"

Donald said that while the suspension of U.S. exports is in place, the federal government should at least limit restrictions on the P.E.I. potato trade across Canada, including the ban on seed potatoes, so that they only affect regulated fields.

CBC
CBC

Regulated fields are those placed under monitoring and other restrictions as part of P.E.I.'s potato wart management plan. Product from these fields can't be exported to the U.S.

The potato wart discoveries which triggered the ban happened on two such fields.

Donald said that while the detections show the management plan is working, the board has hosted discussions among farmers on how to improve it in order to prevent a situation like this from happening again.

Among the measures brought up, Donald said, is talk of taking the fields where the wart is discovered out of production forever, something the CFIA has also suggested.

Under the current management plan, wart-resistant potato varieties can be planted on these fields five years following an infection if soil tests for the fungus come back negative.

Potato wart can remain dormant in a field for more than 40 years.

"We're open to doing a better job and improving and continuous improvement and we'll do that," he said. "But I think the point we keep going back to here is what changed? Why are we not allowed to ship our fresh potatoes to the U.S.?"

The board has also said it's hired a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to help them solve the dispute.

Donald said potato wart is a "quarantinable pest," and that U.S. jurisdictions have put similar types of plans in place for other such pests, where bans haven't been put in place even after multiple detections.

"The issue here is we have a management plan, it's worked extremely well, we've followed it to a T," he said. "But yet when we have a detection, the border is closed."

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