Potato board asks CFIA to revamp potato wart status of PEI

A PEI farmer destroys his potato crop by putting it through a snowblower. An estimated 250 million pounds of PEI potatoes were destroyed in 2022, according to the PEI Potato Board. (Photo courtesy PEI Potato Board)

An international panel convened by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has concluded that most parts of Prince Edward Island outside of what were deemed “Regulated Fields” should be considered free of potato wart (S. Endobioticum).

The International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Potato Wart was set up by the CFIA in 2022, as a follow-up to potato wart detections in PEI in October 2021 that led to trade restrictions. The panel’s main purpose was to obtain the advice of leading experts from around the world on testing diagnostics, surveillance, and management of potato wart, and to determine whether existing wart management activities in PEI meet international standards to certify potatoes for international export.

The PEI potato industry says the conclusion of the panel — that fields other than regulated fields be declared a pest-free area — matters because the Ministerial Order established by the federal government in November 2021 stated that the entire province of PEI was “infested” with potato wart.

The PEI Potato Board says this report now “demonstrates [this statement] was an over-reaching, misleading label that offended PEI farmers and was accompanied by severe restrictions.”

Following the Ministerial Order, all shipments of potatoes out of PEI were halted. While some movement was allowed within a few months, thousands of tonnes of potatoes were destroyed ahead of the 2022 growing season.

The IAP report also confirms that general and specific surveillance activities on PEI since 2000 meet international standards to support this pest free recognition. Washing of potatoes and application of a sprout inhibition product were also recognized as appropriate risk mitigation measures for the movement of fresh potatoes from an area where a soil-borne pest, such as potato wart or PCN, has been found.

“The PEI Potato Industry believes that Ottawa must accept the findings of the expert report it commissioned and start work immediately, in collaboration with the province and industry, to lift unnecessary restrictions on farms with no connection to potato wart and implement science-based recommendations to contain and eventually eradicate the pest. PEI potato growers should not have to spend another season dealing with unnecessary restrictions due to government over-reach,” says John Visser, chair of the PEI Potato Board.

The panel’s report concluded that although there is a low level of potato wart-infested fields in PEI (less than 0.6% of the potato land over the 22 years since the first detection), the island may continue to be described as a location where the pest, Synchitrium endobiotiucm, is “present, not widely distributed, and under official control,” as per International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 8 (Determination of Pest Status in an area).

The PEI provincial government has also adopted one of the panel’s recommendations to ensure that the limited number of infected acres be removed from potato production.