Canada has suspended movement of fresh potatoes from Prince Edward Island to the U.S. to prevent the spread of potato wart.

The fungus reduces yields but does not pose a threat to human health. It is spread by movement of infected potatoes, soil and farm equipment.

David Bailey, Canada’s acting chief plant health officer, said in a Nov. 22 announcement that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended movement of fresh potatoes from Prince Edward Island. The suspension includes table stock and processing potatoes. It does not apply to processed potatoes such as frozen products.

The suspension came in response to concerns expressed by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency “will continue to work closely with the U.S. to address their concerns with a view to minimizing their impacts on trade,” Bailey said. The agency “is committed to demonstrating that through strong risk mitigation measures, the trade of table stock and processing potatoes presents a negligible risk.”

“It is a very virulent disease. If it got into the United States, we would have substantial eradication costs,” National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles said. And “we would likely have a loss of upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars in export markets,” as access to all other international markets for fresh potatoes likely would be lost.

Potato wart is difficult to eradicate “and we sympathize with the growers on Prince Edward Island that are grappling with this,” he said.

Quarles said that while losing the island’s volume challenges an already tight North American potato market, “the threat of the disease outweighs those short-term impacts.”

“This is a really serious issue, and a really significant pest that must not be allowed to enter into the United States,” said John Toaspern, chief marketing officer for Potatoes USA. “Any action required to prevent that from happening is more important than the market impact.”

“There certainly is a lot of trade in potatoes between the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “but the restrictions aren’t going to be so significant that we are not going to be able to still meet demand in both countries and adjust to the situation while it is sorted out.”

Toaspern said Prince Edward Island has substantial processing capacity, “so one hopes those (potatoes) not infected can still be processed there.”

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board says potatoes are the primary cash crop on the island, which is Canada’s largest producer. The island grows about a quarter of the country’s potatoes.

CBC News reported the provincial government plans to fight the decision.

Potato wart was first detected on the island in 2000. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency since has conducted annual surveys there. When the disease is detected, restrictions are placed on individual fields.

The disease was confirmed Oct. 1 and Oct. 14 at high levels on two different Prince Edward Island farms. On Nov. 2, Canada suspended movement of seed potatoes from the island to the U.S.

The Nov. 2 action prompted the National Potato Council and 13 state potato organizations to send a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for the U.S. government’s support for suspending importation of all Prince Edward Island potatoes.

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