Mar 24, 2022
USDA to resume imports of PEI tablestock potatoes, US potato organization ‘dismayed’

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined importation of tablestock potatoes to the U.S. from Prince Edward Island can soon resume.

Imports have been suspended since November 2021 after two positive tests for potato wart in PEI fields. Since then, a third positive test was confirmed from ramped up testing protocol the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered.

The USDA announced March 24 the decision to resume importation of PEI potatoes to the U.S.

“USDA bases all our agricultural trade decisions on sound science,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack through a statement. “We are confident that tablestock potatoes can enter the United States with appropriate safeguards in place to ensure the U.S. potato industry remains protected.”

USDA requirements and CFIA mitigations require that imported tablestock potatoes from PEI and the seed potatoes used to produce them must originate from fields not known to be infested with potato wart or associated with known infestations. The tablestock potatoes must be washed in PEI to remove soil, treated with a sprout inhibitor and graded to meet the U.S. No 1 standard. Shipments must be officially inspected by the NPPO of Canada and certified as meeting USDA requirements.

APHIS will continue to work with Canada to increase confidence in its long-term management plan for potato wart, specifically to finish processing remaining samples associated with recent detections, to expand surveillance of non-regulated fields in PEI, and to continue its national surveillance program.

The U.S. National Potato Council (NPC) immediately issued a statement in regard to the USDA’s ruling.

“We are dismayed to learn that USDA is allowing PEI table stock potatoes to resume shipments to the U.S. prior to completing soil tests for the destructive potato wart disease,” the NPC argued. “Potato wart has been found in Prince Edward Island in eight of the past 10 years, and in a total of 33 potato fields since 2000. The frequency of finds — plus the dramatic drop in the number of disease tests via soil samples — should make U.S. regulators question the prevalence of the disease on the island.”

NPC went on to say that transmission of potato wart to the U.S. would be devastating for the potato industry.

“Beyond the domestic costs to growers and the industry, the U.S. would likely immediately lose access to all international fresh potato markets, costing the industry over $225 million in annual exports and billions of dollars in additional indirect damage,” the statement said.

In addition, NPC said testing standards set for PEI imports are less than ones CFIA requires for pale cyst nematodes on potatoes coming from the U.S., adding that the extensive history of wart in PEI fields isn’t being considering strongly enough.

“Given the history of disease detections, U.S. potato growers fear that potato wart in Prince Edward Island is far from under control. Today’s decision to allow potatoes from untested fields to enter the U.S. does not assuage their concerns. We strongly urge USDA to enact science-based mitigation measures that will protect U.S. growers from this highly destructive disease,” NPC said.

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