P.E.I. potato export crisis may not be solved by Christmas

P.E.I. potato export crisis may not be solved by Christmas-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says the federal government is working very hard to solve this crisis. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal government continues to work to resolve a crisis that has closed the U.S. border to fresh P.E.I. potatoes, but Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she can’t guarantee a resolution by Christmas.

“[It’s] very hard to tell,” said Bibeau.

“We are working extremely hard, trying to gather more information, share it with the Americans.”

The border was closed by order of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last Monday, following the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields. Bibeau has said Canada acted to forestall action on the American side that could have been more difficult to reverse.

Potato wart is caused by a fungus. It disfigures potatoes and makes them unmarketable, but it is not a threat to human health.

Potato wart-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Potato wart looks bad, but does not hurt people. (CFIA)

Potato wart was first detected on the Island in 2000. Following a border closure in that year, a management plan was developed in consultation with the United States. That plan includes cleaning potatoes so infected soil is not exported and spraying potatoes with sprout inhibitor so infected potatoes cannot propagate. In addition, infected fields are quarantined, so no fresh potatoes from those fields leave P.E.I.

That management plan has kept the border open for 20 years.

Both Bibeau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said the ban is not based on science.

“Fresh potatoes are safe for export,” said Bibeau.

“It’s a science-based discussion [with the Americans]. We have to make a demonstration that our fresh potatoes are safe. It’s a matter of tolerance to risk.”

Federal International Trade Minister Mary Ng held a virtual meeting with U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai.

P.E.I. potatoes were one of a number issues raised by Ng. They also discussed what Canada considers to be protectionist measures in a plan for tax credits for electric vehicles, and an increase in duty on Canadian softwood lumber.

P.E.I. farmers have said every week the border is closed is a significant loss. The weeks leading up to Christmas are traditionally particularly strong for potato sales.


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