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Third detection of potato wart 'no surprise', say P.E.I. Potato Board and CFIA

Officials from the P.E.I. Potato Board meeting in Ottawa on the suspension trade in fresh P.E.I. potatoes with the U.S., Dec. 2, 2021. Courtesy: P.E.I. Potato Board

The P.E.I. Potato Board said it is "no surprise" that there has been a third detection of potato wart, this one found in soil samples taken in October 2021. It says the field is directly related to, and located close to, a field where potato wart was detected last October.

In a statement, the board said the potatoes in the field were grown for processing, not for the fresh table stock market or seed, and that the potatoes have already been processed. The announcement comes just days before Canada's agriculture minister is expecting to hear whether her American counterpart will agree to allow P.E.I. fresh potatoes back into the U.S. market.

In mid-February, after imports to Puerto Rico resumed, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she was optimistic the mainland U.S. would reopen in a couple of weeks. Bibeau then said it could be as late as March 10 before American officials finish their risk assessment and make a decision.
 
Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in Canada and Tom Vilsack,United States Secretary of Agriculture Washington January 2022. Courtesy: Twitter/Marie-Claude Bibeau

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in Canada and Tom Vilsack,United States Secretary of Agriculture Washington January 2022. Courtesy: Twitter/Marie-Claude Bibeau

In an email to CBC News, the agriculture minister said she was "aware that while testing these samples last month, the agency confirmed the presence of potato wart spores." However, Bibeau said she was still satisfied that, under the controls that Canada has set, the trade of table stock and processing potatoes presents a very negligible risk.

Marie-Claude Bibeau:
 
"With our strong risk mitigation measures in place, as they are moving across Canada, and exports have begun again to Puerto Rico. The science is on our side and we will continue to take a science-based approach to resume trade to the U.S. as quickly as possible for this vital industry."
 
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and P.E.I. MP Lawrence MacAulay met in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022. Courtesy: Twitter/Marie-Claude Bibeau

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and P.E.I. MP Lawrence MacAulay met in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022. Courtesy: Twitter/Marie-Claude Bibeau

'Unfortunate' finding

The export ban has been in place since Nov. 21, after the discovery of potato wart fungus in two Island fields. The board said while any finding of potato wart is "unfortunate," it shows the Long Term Potato Wart Management Plan is correctly identifying fields at risk. The plan has been in place since the first discovery of potato wart in 2000.

Potato wart has never spread from P.E.I. to anywhere else, the board said, a fact it said was confirmed by the National Potato Wart Survey. The results of that survey were released in December 2021. The announcement of the new detection comes just days after P.E.I. farmers completed a potato disposal program, destroying an estimated 136 million kilograms of surplus potatoes.
 
Island growers destroyed an estimated 136 million kilograms of surplus potatoes in February. Courtesy: Alex Docherty

Island growers destroyed an estimated 136 million kilograms of surplus potatoes in February. Courtesy: Alex Docherty

Not unexpected

In a statement, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said this latest finding was not unexpected, as it is not uncommon to detect potato wart in associated fields during an investigation. It said the discovery was made on a farm that does not produce table stock potatoes or export to Puerto Rico, and that "no seed potatoes produced in 2021 left this grower's facility."
 
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has now tested more than 3,500 samples from priority fields associated with the two October 2021 potato wart detections. Courtesy: Shane Hennessey/CBC

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has now tested more than 3,500 samples from priority fields associated with the two October 2021 potato wart detections. Courtesy: Shane Hennessey/CBC

The agency said it has now tested more than 3,500 samples from priority fields associated with the two October 2021 potato wart detections, which were in restricted fields, already being monitored under the potato wart management plan.

CFIA said the agency has plans in place for further sample collection when the ground thaws in the spring, including an investigation into this latest detection of potato wart.

In the statement, it also said that based on science, the risk of transmitting potato wart from table stock potatoes and potatoes for processing "remains negligible when appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place."
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