Still unclear how to resume fresh P.E.I. potato exports to the U.S., says premier

·3 min read
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended fresh P.E.I. potato exports to the U.S after finding potato wart in two Island fields.  (CBC - image credit)
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended fresh P.E.I. potato exports to the U.S after finding potato wart in two Island fields. (CBC - image credit)

P.E.I Premier Dennis King says he's working to keep the current potato export ban at the forefront of policy makers' minds as the province works to figure out how to get that ban lifted.

"We feel that we are doing everything we can to keep this top of mind in both Washington and Ottawa but unfortunately we still don't know exactly what we need to do and when to get the all-clear," King told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"That's the most frustrating and devastating part of this, I think, for all Island producers."

It's been two weeks since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended fresh P.E.I. potato exports to the U.S. after finding potato wart in two Island fields.

The fungus is spread through the movement of infected seed potatoes and contaminated soil. It poses no threat to human health or food safety but it disfigures potatoes and makes them unmarketable.

"I was talking to a farmer last night. He's had to lay off 20 people, you know, 20 days before Christmas, and obviously he's devastated," said King.

"It's top of mind for our producers and growers here in the province and every day they are losing hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars, and it gets worse every day."

'We are uncertain'

There was hope a meeting Friday between CFIA and U.S. agricultural officials might resolve the issue but technical discussions and investigations are ongoing.

"We are uncertain still what we need to do or show to lift that [ban] to give the green light to our neighbours south that things are going extremely well here," King said. Our potatoes are very safe."

CBC
CBC

Despite the unknowns, King said steps are being taken to fix the situation.

King met with the governors of Maine and Massachusetts last week to offer reassurances about the quality of P.E.I. potatoes.

"We're eating them all across Canada and you guys should and need to be eating them down in the northeast U.S. and beyond," he said.

'We need these markets'

Even with the ban in place, P.E.I. growers are pushing to send their produce to Puerto Rico.

"There's been some progress there for sure ... which is a flicker or a glimmer of hope," said King.

"This is potatoes that are shipped from Canada directly to Puerto Rico. They never see land. They don't plant potatoes in Puerto Rico, so there's no concern that wart would be a problem there."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

The P.E.I. Potato Board previously told CBC News that the Island ships $18 to $20 million worth of potatoes to the U.S. territory in a normal production year.

In 2020, sales to Puerto Rico accounted for about 25 per cent of the province's sales to the U.S.

"We certainly feel as an industry if this is about science then science is on our side and this should be an extremely quick fix," said King.

"But here we are today still talking about this and probably more unknown than known."

As producers continue to await answers, members of the Island's community have stepped up to help.

"Nothing surprised me about P.E.I. when it comes to supporting each other," he said.

"But the reality is we can't eat 120 million pounds of potatoes. We will try. We'll do our best. But you know, we need these markets to get open."

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