P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says he will “work around the clock” to get a suspension on the export of potatoes from his province to the United States lifted.
The suspension was ordered on Monday by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after the discovery of potatoes infected with potato wart in two P.E.I. fields in October. Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the move was to prevent the U.S. from taking similar action, which might be more difficult to reverse.
“I have spoken with dozens of industry officials, political leaders, as well as potato producers and family farmers over the last 48 hours and will continue to do so in the days ahead,” King said in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon.
“I have expressed to each one of them my unwavering commitment to do whatever it takes to reopen the U.S. border to our world-class P.E.I. potatoes.”
The P.E.I. Potato Board has estimated the value of the potatoes that are now in market limbo at $120 million. It’s about 115 million kilograms, enough for 50 million five-pound bags.
There are further knock-on effects in other industries, such as trucking. During peak season — from October to May — about 160 transport trucks full of potatoes head from P.E.I. to the U.S. every week.
Mike MacDonald, director of the Upper Room Food Bank in Charlottetown, said he’s concerned the economic fallout of the trade suspension will lead to more families visiting the food bank.
“I’m sure that’s going to impact a number of individuals and potentially impact their employment, so we’re certainly thinking that will have an impact on us,” he said.
Inflation has already led to an increase in traffic at the food bank, he said, which is seeing 10 per cent more families a month than what were previously considered historic highs.
Management plan in place
Potato wart, caused by a fungus, is considered a serious threat in the U.S. The fungus disfigures potatoes and reduces yields, but it is not a threat to human health.
Included in King’s calls have been Rodger Cuzner, consul general of Canada in Boston, and Lyra Carr, the U.S. consul general.
King said he shared with them the details of the province’s potato safety management plan, which was developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture following the first discovery of potato wart on P.E.I. in 2000.
“We are trying to utilize the time in our conversations to explain in greater detail the full extent of our wart management protocols and how the processes that we have put in place have served us well,” King said.
“When these conversations are had, there seems to be a positive acceptance of what we do and the importance of our Island products to the North American market.”
King said the province has also established a “situation table” to address the issue that includes senior government officials, representatives of the potato board and former longtime MP Wayne Easter.
Bibeau has said bringing this issue to a resolution is a top priority for the federal government.
In response to a question in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden at a meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, adding that there is no scientific basis for the suspension.