WASHINGTON — Potato farmers from Prince Edward Island warn Americans in advertisements that a “Spudpocalypse”Is close. Privately, in a letter to government officials, they place part of the blame for the potato disaster on the federal government’s Department of Agriculture.

In a sternly worded letter sent to Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau last week and obtained by the Star, the Prince Edward Island Potato Council blew her away for declaring the province “contaminated” with potato wart and sending potatoes to suspended the U.S. after the fungus was found in two countries in November 2021. Since then, the potato board estimates $ 120 million in potential revenue has been lost, and another growing season is being jeopardized as the suspension drags on.

The letter, sent on January 20, said Bibeau’s approach – to present science to Americans in the hope that exports would resume – proved ineffective, calling for an immediate shift in tactics. “It is clear from reports from the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) staff involved in technical discussions with the United States that no timelines for a resolution have been set, nor has it even gained clarity on what ‘science’ is required to do. does not resume. shipments, ”reads the letter. “Trade advocacy – rather than science – now appears to be the path that CFIA proposes.”

Commerce Secretary Mary Ng and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were copied on the letter, along with a host of provincial and federal officials.

Greg Donald, chief executive of the Potato Board, and Dennis King, premier of PEI, told the Star they would welcome a trade war in which Canada could implement retaliatory import bans and launch a legal challenge. They suggest that this will make the matter a political hot potato that needs to be resolved quickly.

The issue arose in November when potato blight, a fungus that poses no threat to human health but can disfigure and make potatoes difficult to sell (and that lives in soil for decades), was discovered at two farms in PEI. Fearing that the US would completely ban the access of Canadian potatoes and that it would be difficult to get such a ban lifted, Bibeau suspended export licenses to the US for everyone PEI potatoes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed suit by issuing a customs order banning PEI potatoes from entering the country.

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Because fresh or processed potatoes destined for people’s tables – unlike tubers that would be planted in the ground – pose no threat to humans or crops, Bibeau and her department pursued a strategy to address the scientific and technical arguments to submit to the USA. in an effort to get them to sign off on a resumption of trade. Ten weeks later, both Bibeau and the Potato Board agree that the scientific argument that the potatoes are safe is airy (those potatoes are still consumed across Canada). And yet the ban on exports to the US remains in place.

Donald says the Potato Board has not yet received a response to their letter. But in an interview with the Star, Bibeau responded to some of its contents, saying PEI potato exports are her “number one top priority” and defend her approach as healthy. She said she was told by her counterpart in the US that the potatoes would be banned and therefore she should take preventative steps. “We bring additional information, we have an ongoing conversation, a technical conversation, with them to reassure them to reopen the market for fresh potatoes,” she said. “And I am confident that we will get to the point where they will be reassured and they will agree to reopen the market.”

Premier King, when he heard this, said: “If Minister Bibeau believes this will be the resolution, I believe, in my heart, she is the only one.”

“I think we all felt from the beginning that it had less to do with science and more to do with trade,” King said. Since Bibeau and Canadian authorities agree that there is no science that supports a ban, King argues that it’s time to lift the voluntary one. If the US then continues to block the potatoes, it could be recognized as a simple trade-off, one that he says Canada knows how to fight.

Federal officials say the case is being pursued simultaneously by several departments – including Trudeau and Ng. But Bibeau argues that abandoning the technical approach to a trade war poses greater risks. “Our strength is in the scientific case. Trade issues are never resolved very quickly. So I have a lot more hope to solve the problem through a technical discussion. ”

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Potato Board general manager Donald asks how long farmers are expected to wait while the “technical discussion” drags on. About $ 120 million worth of perfectly edible potatoes grown last year are likely to be destroyed, and the planting season for the 2022 crop begins in less than 90 days. Farmers now have to make decisions about whether they will spend millions to plant a new crop that they do not yet know they will be able to market and sell.

Meanwhile, the potato plate is run advertising campaigns in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts – their two largest U.S. markets – warn consumers about the growing potato shortages and high prices they are facing as a result, and call on them to press U.S. authorities to resolve the issue.

Donald says the response to the ads has been good, within limits. “What we hear from them is: ‘We have passed on our concerns, but (US authorities) say they can not (solve) them – because it is your own country that has a suspension in place.’ So it’s frustrating. ”

Donald says potato farmers can not afford to wait. U.S. exports are typically such a large part of the market that the industry has already been devastated. Losing another season, he says, could ruin it. “We will definitely lose farms over this. Definitely. And I do not hope we lose farmers. ”


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