Puerto rico government

Prince Edward Island stresses urgency to lift suspension of trade in fresh potatoes at ‘positive’ meeting in Ottawa


Federal and provincial officials met in Ottawa on Thursday to discuss the way forward on the suspension of exports of fresh potatoes from Prince Edward Island to the United States

Provincial Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson met with his federal counterpart Marie-Claude Bibeau as well as the four Island MPs, industry representatives and officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to discuss the trade ban.

The CFIA issued the suspension in November after the wart scab was found in two of the Island’s fields in October.

Thompson said the meeting was “positive” although no timetable has been set for lifting the ban.

“We got a lot of responses,” he said. “We really insisted on the urgency, and the President of CFIA came to me after the meeting and really emphasized how she now understands the importance of a timeline to resolve this issue.

“We left on a very positive note which we hope to have in the next few weeks, we have a schedule.”

Thompson said Bibeau and MPs have shown they are committed to the problem and are working hard to resolve it.

“I think we all left the meeting with more optimism,” said Heath MacDonald, Liberal MP for Malpeque.

“Today’s meeting has gone a long way in giving everyone around this table… a better insight into the process and protocols that have been put in place over the years and how they work.”

MacDonald said he hopes the optimism continues at a meeting between the CFIA and the United States Department of Agriculture on Friday.

The federal government said the suspension was issued to prevent a U.S. ban, which would be more difficult to overturn.

“The CFIA has to believe in the process that has been put in place, and you know the management plan is there,” MacDonald said. “On the other side is also the PEI Potato Board and these farmers are telling us what we need to do, what changes we need today. And we will.

Puerto Rico exemption

The potato wart fungus is spread by movement of infected seed potatoes and contaminated soil. It poses no threat to human health or food safety, but is known to decrease yield. (SRC)

McDonald said some of the issues raised were aimed at ensuring there were no more barriers to interprovincial exports and the possibility of a ban exemption for Puerto Rico.

The United States is a key market for PEI potatoes.

“I actually had a call this morning with my counterpart in Puerto Rico,” Thompson said. “They want our product and they need our product.”

But Thompson said any exemption will depend heavily on the cooperation of the US government.

“A lot of it is up to the United States and all we can do is continue to prove that the science exists, you know, that potatoes are good,” MacDonald said.

“We are doing everything we can, from the provincial level to the federal level to the farmer level, to the marketing level of the potato board. Everyone is on the same page and we are pushing back that envelope as hard as we can. “

Thompson, who also met with Island farmers, said the industry needed a solution quickly.

“It’s a real fight there,” he said. “They get frustrated with strangers and, you know, you can’t even tell them when this might be over or what they’re going to do with their product.

“It’s incredibly stressful financially, and these are business people trying to make business plans and they just have no way to go right now.”