Potato wart mostly under control on P.E.I., panel finds

John Visser, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board, is calling on Ottawa to act on an expert panel's recommendations and put new rules in place that will restore P.E.I.'s reputation and allow all exports to resume. (Shane Hennessey/CBC  - image credit)
John Visser, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board, is calling on Ottawa to act on an expert panel's recommendations and put new rules in place that will restore P.E.I.'s reputation and allow all exports to resume. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

A new detection of potato wart in December may slow progress on establishing what are called pest-free zones on P.E.I.

The wart was discovered in a field connected to a previous find.

After exports to the U.S. and Puerto Rico were shut down in 2021, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency created a panel of experts in potato wart to assess if P.E.I. is doing enough to ensure potatoes meet standards for export.

Growers were forced to destroy millions of pounds of their crop. The ban was eventually lifted on table stock potatoes, but not seed potatoes.

The panel's report, prepared by experts from Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and New Zealand, concludes most parts of P.E.I. are pest-free and potato wart is under control.

John Visser, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board, said the report's findings are different from the ministerial order in November 2021 that described the entire province as infested.

'A little bittersweet'

"It's a little bit bittersweet. We have always felt that the ministerial order shouldn't have happened," said Visser.

"Other than getting a little bit frustrated, we need to move forward ... and get the ball rolling."

The report also makes recommendations already flagged by the provincial government, including planting more varieties of potatoes that are resistant to potato wart, and taking out of production the acres that have been infected with potato wart.

In a statement to CBC, P.E.I. Agriculture and Land Minister Darlene Compton said the province supports the science-based approach taken by the panel and is committed to working together on next steps.

Cody MacKay/CBC
Cody MacKay/CBC

The potato board is calling on Ottawa to act on the panel's recommendations and put new rules in place that will restore P.E.I.'s reputation and allow all exports to resume.

The CFIA's Gord Henry said the agency wants to work with government and industry to develop an action plan to create pest-free areas.

But first, he said, the agency needs to investigate the new detection.

4,500 samples collected

"The international panel did caution that when using a pest-free area before the investigation is complete, there is a risk that additional finds could be found and thus would call into question the validity of the pest-free area."

Sampling will start as soon as weather permits.

The agency says work toward pest-free areas can proceed, even as the investigation continues.

In its latest report, CFIA said it has collected almost 4,500 samples, and more than 2,800 have been analyzed.

With the latest finding of potato wart, that number will continue to grow.