Oct 25, 2023
US ambassador visit puts PEI potato wart issues in spotlight

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen’s recent visit to Prince Edward Island has again spotlighted ongoing potato wart disease issues affecting trade between the U.S. and PEI.

Cohen made his first trip to PEI last week, though he told Island Morning radio host Mitch Cormier that he has met with government officials previously in Ottawa, according to a report from CBC.

Noting that trade between the U.S. and Canada is worth about $3.25 billion a day, Cohen said that large issues between the countries, including mutual defense agreements and intelligence sharing, do not have to dwarf matters of PEI interest, including the continuing ban on the export of seed potatoes from the island.

“I am very well-positioned to be able to make sure that I am advocating and protecting the trade that takes place between PEI and the United States, and even down to the more micro level of the potato trade,” Cohen was reported as saying.

NPC CEO Quarles

Detection of potato wart in 2021 closed the U.S. border and sparked an investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. An estimated 240 million pounds of potatoes were destroyed.

Imports of fresh potatoes to the U.S. resumed in April 2022, and the CFIA concluded its probe in August. The agency found potato wart in four fields in addition to the two 2021 detections after analyzing nearly 50,000 soil samples from PEI fields associated with recent detections. The findings were “expected in investigations of this scale,” CFIA said in a statement.

“The risks associated with the transmission of potato wart from fresh potatoes from PEI remain negligible when appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place and followed,” according to the statement.

Potato wart causes unsightly cauliflower-like growths on potatoes but poses no human health risk.

In August, National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles warned of potential consequences if planting continues in the affected PEI fields, and in an Oct. 20 statement reacting to Cohen’s visit, Quarles again sounded a cautionary note.

“From the beginning of this most recent chapter involving potato wart on PEI, we have been advocating for a resolution of the issue based on science,” Quarles said. “However, there has been substantial Canadian political pressure in response, including Prime Minister Trudeau raising the issue with President Biden during a White House meeting. Ambassador Cohen’s statements appear to downplay USDA’s recent assessment of the risk of this disease entering the United States.

“We hope those political efforts do not result in the introduction of potato wart in the U.S. and the economic harm that would follow.”

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