WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Canada has halted exports of fresh potatoes from Prince Edward Island (PEI) to the United States, facing a threat from the U.S. to ban the shipments itself over concerns about the potato wart fungus, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said on Monday.
© Reuters/Blair Gable Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau speaks during a sitting of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
The agency (CFIA) confirmed the fungus in high levels on two PEI farms in October, the first in 21 years in the province. Potato wart can decrease crop yields but poses no threat to human health or food safety, the CFIA said.
PEI, the smallest Canadian province, is the third-largest potato-producing province after Manitoba and Alberta, growing about 20% of the national harvest in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. The crop is worth more than C$1 billion ($788 million) annually to the province’s economy, according to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board.
© Reuters/JONATHAN ERNST U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington
Canada halted movement of PEI seed potatoes to the United States on Nov. 2. The United States notified Canada, however, that it would ban all imports of PEI fresh potatoes unless Canada took further action.
In response, Canada also suspended exports of fresh PEI potatoes, including potatoes for table use and processing, to the United States. The decision does not apply to processed products.
Fresh potatoes can still move to other Canadian provinces, said David Bailey, Canada’s acting chief plant health officer.
The situation highlights a difference of opinion between the United States and Canada over the threat the fungus poses.
Canada’s new safety measures, such as brushing and washing potatoes to remove soil, makes the risk negligible, Bailey said on a conference call.
“The Americans feel the risk is too high for them.”
Potato wart was previously detected in the United States, but has since been eradicated, according to CFIA.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she had raised the issue with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and would work to restore trade access.
($1 = 1.2683 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Mark Potter)