Premier Dennis King said the P.E.I. government will consider all options at its disposal, including legal, to fight the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s suspension of fresh potato exports from the province to the U.S.
King said the federal government’s decision, triggered by the discovery of potato wart on two different Island farms in October, was “extremely disappointing” and will immensely hurt the Island’s economy.
“The impacts of this decision will be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollar and will impact the lives of families from Tignish to Souris and all points in between,” he said at a news conference Monday.
“The potato industry is equivalent to the auto industry in Ontario, the forest industry in British Columbia, the oil and gas industry in Alberta, and for a Canadian minister with the stroke of a pen in the face of good science and historical protocol to do this is inconceivable.”
This is solely a politically-based trade disruption that will limit trade in a year when potatoes are already in short supply.— P.E.I. Potato Board
King said the province will be aggressively negotiating with the federal government for “significant” compensation.
In the meantime, the province will start a $10-million emergency contingency fund to address the immediate needs of Island farmers, including crisis management resources and help with any related costs to dealing with the impact of potato wart, P.E.I. Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson said.
Seed potato exports were suspended on Nov. 2. In a news release issued earlier Monday, CFIA announced it had expanded the ban to all fresh P.E.I. potatoes.
Potato wart disfigures potatoes and reduces yield, making potatoes unmarketable, but is not a threat to human health. The fungus is extremely persistent and can take more than 40 years before it fully leaves the soil.
The ban does not include potatoes that have already been processed, such as frozen french fries. Fresh potatoes must be brushed and washed to remove soil, which could carry the fungus, before shipping. Seed potatoes may not be shipped outside the province.
‘We must engage with the U.S.’
CFIA said took the action after the U.S. notified Canada it would act if Canada did not take voluntary measures.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said at an earlier press conference that a U.S. federal order banning the imports would go beyond what is needed to reduce the risk of spread, and that it would be much more difficult to reverse.
“To resume trade as quickly as possible, we must engage with the U.S. regarding their concerns,” she said.
“We are taking a responsible approach that is based in science. It would provide the protection that our industry needs through this difficult time.”
The minister said she’s asked the CFIA to “redouble” its efforts to work with the province and industry to contain the spread of potato wart on the Island. The federal government also said it is working on a plan to support farmers affected by the closure of the U.S. market
But King said Ottawa should have been fighting to make sure Canada’s trading values are “respected” by the U.S. and that the suspension is not following science.
“How disappointing it was to hear the federal minister say publicly in a news conference today, as well as to me and [Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson] last night at least half a dozen times, that her decision that will potentially cripple our industry and sully our reputation around the world is being made against the acceptable science and protocol and is being made, using her words, to appease a trading partner. That’s not how trade relationships work,” he said.
“Minister Bibeau said today in her press conference that P.E.I. potatoes are of the highest quality and are safe. And I would say to her that if she truly believes this that she would put this decision through the shredder immediately.”
King said Bibeau didn’t offer any timeline as to when the suspension will be lifted.
The decision comes amid one of the best potato crops in years.
The P.E.I. Potato Board said it is “shocked” by the suspension, and that a plan to prevent the spread within the province developed by the CFIA was already in place.
The board said exports to the U.S. are worth $120 million a year.
It said the fungus was found in fields already being regulated as part of the plan, so were already ineligible to be shipped outside P.E.I.
“Since the discovery of potato wart in P.E.I. in 2000, there has not been a single incidence of potato wart in any markets, including the U.S. and the rest of Canada, attributable to Prince Edward Island potatoes,” the board said in a release.
The board said the restrictions do not represent the wishes of most U.S. buyers and stakeholders.
“This is solely a politically-based trade disruption that will limit trade in a year when potatoes are already in short supply across North America and globally,” it said, adding the suspension could lead to the destruction of millions of kilograms of fresh potatoes.