U.S. moves to allow import of table potatoes from PEI

Table potatoes from Prince Edward Island will soon be allowed into the U.S. again under certain conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Potato exports from the province known for its potato production were suspended by the Canadian government in November after the confirmation of potato wart disease in a pair of fields in PEI. Canadian officials said the government chose to suspend export licenses rather than have the U.S. impose a ban on potatoes from PEI, which would potentially be more difficult to remove.

On Thursday (March 24), APHIS released a statement saying Canada and the U.S. have reached “an understanding” about the risk of table stock potato imports from PEI. The agency says the Canadian government will lift its ban on exports while APHIS plans to publish a federal order outlining “additional required mitigations to protect the U.S. potato industry.”

Today’s news is important for PEI potato growers. I know the last few months have been incredibly difficult for potato farmers, producers, and everyone on the Island,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a statement following the USDA’s announcement. “This reopening comes at a critical time for the industry. Potato exports are essential for the livelihoods of so many Islanders, and I am confident that this decision by the U.S. will give farmers the predictability and assurances they need for the next potato growing season.”

While the minister did not share any specific timeline, she said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will work in collaboration with the potato industry to implement the new export requirements for the U.S. in short order, she noted.

“We will continue to take a Team Canada approach to ensure continued confidence in the safety of PEI potatoes. As part of these efforts the CFIA is completing the ongoing investigations in PEI and technical work to provide USDA APHIS with the necessary, science-based assurances in order to fully restore the trade,” said Bibeau.

The USDA “bases all our agricultural trade decisions on sound science,” noted Bibeau’s counterpart, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“We are confident that table stock potatoes can enter the United States with appropriate safeguards in place to ensure the U.S. potato industry remains protected,” said Vilsack.

APHIS notes table stock potatoes from PEI, and the seed potatoes used to produce them, must come from fields not known to be infested with potato wart. They must also be washed in PEI to remove soil, treated with a sprout inhibitor, and graded to meet the U.S. No 1 standard. Shipments must be officially inspected by the National Plant Protection Organization of Canada and certified as meeting USDA requirements.

The U.S. National Potato Council, meanwhile, says it is “dismayed” with the USDA’s decision to resume imports from PEI. “The announcement today that USDA is allowing resumption of trade with essentially no additional safeguards is disappointing,” said the U.S. potato producer group.

Potato exports from PEI to Puerto Rico resumed in February following a visit by Minister Bibeau to Washington, DC. At the time, the minister said she expected it would take a few more weeks to reopen the market to the U.S. mainland.

It’s also still not known when seed potato exports from PEI will be allowed to resume.