United States allows shipments of P.E.I. potatoes to resume to Puerto Rico

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WASHINGTON – The United States Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it will allow the resumption of shipments of Prince Edward Island potatoes to Puerto Rico.

Exports to Puerto Rico and the continental United States have been on hold since November following the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields.

The fungal parasite spreads through the movement of infected potatoes, soil and farm equipment, and though it poses no threat to human health, it leaves potatoes disfigured and can greatly decrease crop yields.

The Canadian government imposed the ban on the export of table-stock potatoes — which are used for food not planting — on Nov. 22 to avoid a U.S. ban, and the United States said it needed to review Canadian mitigation efforts before shipments could resume.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the importation of the potatoes under specified conditions poses little risk of introducing potato wart disease to Puerto Rico, which does not farm potatoes.

“It is critical that we base our agricultural trade decisions on sound science,” Vilsack said in a written statement. “After considering Puerto Rico’s low risk for potato wart due to climate conditions, as well as the lack of a commercial potato production industry on the island, we are confident that with appropriate mitigations in place, this trade can resume safely.”

Puerto Rico usually gets 80 to 85 per cent of its potatoes from Prince Edward Island, representing about a quarter of the province’s potato exports to the United States.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Island MP Lawrence MacAulay travelled to Washington Jan. 27 to discuss the trade issue with U.S. officials and explain what Canada was doing to prevent the spread of potato wart.

“These potatoes come from fields that are not known for ever having potato wart,” Bibeau said in an interview following the meeting. She noted that before export they are washed, brushed, graded, inspected and treated with a sprout inhibitor.

The exports to Puerto Rico can resume as of Wednesday as long as P.E.I. adheres to specific USDA requirements and Canadian Food Inspection Agency mitigation measures.

There’s been no indication when a decision will be made on exports to the continental United States or on the sale of seed potatoes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.

— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

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