July 13, 2020

P.E.I. premier wants action on potato ban

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island – Angered by a continuing U.S. ban on Prince Edward Island potatoes, Premier Pat Binns urged the federal government Tuesday to close Canada’s border to American spuds.

The U.S. border has been closed since Oct. 20, when potato wart was found in one section of a potato field in the province.

Speaking in the legislature, Binns urged Ottawa to retaliate against the United States for “its wanton disregard for trade agreements to which it is a signatory.”

Potato wart is a fungus that causes potatoes to produce green cauliflowerlike eruptions that render them unmarketable.

More than 5,500 soil samples have been taken from the area and surrounding fields. The only positive test came from the area where the affected potatoes first turned up.

“We’ve had the potato wart under control since day one,” said Don Love of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“Our perception is that the science is solid, but [U.S.] perception is of a different point of view. It’s hard to say how long this will take. … We could have something very soon or it may not happen for a while.”

Canadian officials have been advised by the U.S. Agriculture Department that a border closure to fresh Prince Edward Island spuds will remain in place.

Maine, a major potato-growing state, has expressed support for continuation of the ban until the potato wart situation is resolved.

“Maine is the most at-risk state in the country,” David Lavway, a representative of the National Potato Board, said last month. “If you get it, you’re out of business.”

But Binns called the continuing ban a transparent case of protectionism that can’t be scientifically justified.

“Without firm and decisive action on the part of the government of Canada, the government of the United States will feel no compulsion to lift the trade restriction on Prince Edward Island potatoes,” the premier said.

“We must have that action now. Canada must act. Canada must retaliate. Canada must demonstrate to Prince Edward Island producers that it is prepared to stand with them in the international trade arena.”

Island producers say they could go out of business if the ban isn’t lifted soon. They’ve accused U.S. officials of using the potato wart as an excuse to keep their potatoes from entering the United States.

Binns said the province has trusted science and diplomacy to clear things up, with little success. He said the ban is starting to weaken the linchpin of the Prince Edward Island economy.

“We’re losing big dollars today,” he said. “Trucks are shut down, packing plants are not packing. Everyone who supports the industry is at a loss and we have no indication from the United States government as to when this might open up.”

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