Nearly two years after the U.S. market was closed to Prince Edward Island potato sales, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has completed an investigation sparked by the detection of potato wart in two Island fields back in 2021.
Over the course of the investigation, CFIA staff collected and analyzed nearly 50,000 soil samples from fields associated with those detections of the fungus, which disfigures potatoes and sharply reduces crop yield but is not harmful to humans.
That process led to potato wart being identified in four additional fields, which agency officials said was not unexpected in investigations of this scale.
“There’s still some work to do,” said Lynn MacVicar, the P.E.I. director of operations with CFIA, shortly after the agency announced its investigation was at an end.
“We’re actively working with the agriculture industry, with the growers and other stakeholders, in things such as enhanced biosecurity measures, enhanced traceability — just making sure that we have everything in place to instill confidence in our trading partners that we are controlling the risk with potato wart here.”
Controls have been put in place to restrict the movement of potatoes, plants and soil from those fields, in a bid to reduce the spread of potato wart.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, the MP for the P.E.I. riding of Cardigan and himself a former potato grower, released a statement on Friday as the CFIA announced the investigation had come to an end.
“The past couple of years have been challenging for our potato growers, packers, processors, and shippers,” it said in part.
“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the potato industry, the provincial government, CFIA, and other partners as we all work collaboratively on a path forward to ensure the long-term sustainability and economic growth of our iconic potato industry.”
Detections were huge blow to industry
News of the detections in late 2021 led the CFIA to ban P.E.I. potatoes from being sold into the huge United States market for four months. Though many truckloads went to food banks, hundreds of millions of pounds of Island potatoes had to be destroyed over the winter of 2022 because no buyers could be found.
The export of fresh table potatoes eventually resumed, starting with the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
However, a federal ministerial order restricting the export of seed potatoes from P.E.I. remains in effect.
The P.E.I. Potato Board says it’s optimistic that negotiations to lift that order will start as soon as possible.
Provincial Agricultural Minister Bloyce Thompson also released a statement on Friday.
“We appreciate the hard work and commitment from the CFIA and from our industry, and with the investigation now complete, look forward to working with federal counterparts and industry stakeholders on actions that will further support our local potato industry,” the statement said in part.
The CFIA says it will continue to conduct surveillance activities throughout the fall in P.E.I., including in selected fields not previously associated with potato wart.