In late November of 2021, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that it would suspend all shipments of fresh potatoes from the Province of Prince Edward Island to the US due to the discovery of potato wart on several farms in the island province. However, in early February 2022, the US Department of Agriculture announced it will allow the resumption of the import of those potatoes to Puerto Rico.
The Problem with Potato Wart
At the time the ban was instituted, Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the US had made it clear that they would ban all fresh potato imports if Canada did not suspend trade first. Potato wart is a fungal parasite that spreads through the movement of infected potatoes, soil, and farm equipment.
The ban displeased PEI premier Dennis King, as well as PEI potato farmers, since apart from being found on only a handful of farms, potato wart poses no threat to human health. It does result in misshapen potatoes and can greatly decrease the yield of potato crops, though.
Potatoes Are Big Business
In North America, PEI is a major potato grower. In the small province of 157,000 people, the potato farming industry employs approximately 5,000 people. According to Greg Donald of the Prince Edward Potato Board, the province meets the potato needs of about nine million Americans each year. In fact, the potato industry generates approximately $110 million CAD ($87 million USD) in US business each year.
Why Puerto Rico?
While PEI potato farmers remain frustrated that the continental US remains closed to their potatoes, the reopening of Puerto Rico is a welcome development. Puerto Rico typically gets 80%– 85% of its potatoes from PEI, representing about a quarter of the province’s potato exports to the US.
Although potato wart poses no threat to human health, it can still harm potato crops, which has influenced the US Department of Agriculture's decision. But Puerto Rico has no commercial potato farming industry, and the climate is not conducive to the spread of potato wart. As a result, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that the potatoes' importation to Puerto Rico poses little risk to American potato farmers.
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