NewsIndustryNPC Calls Spread of PEI Potato Wart to U.S. “A Matter of...

NPC Calls Spread of PEI Potato Wart to U.S. “A Matter of Time”

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The National Potato Council says current CFIA plan is “inadequate” in controlling movement of disease.

The National Potato Council (NPC) — the voice of U.S. potato growers — submitted public comments to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s risk management documents, highlighting the potential consequences should potato wart be transmitted to the United States, according to a Jan. 19 press release.

“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 directly in annual exports and billions more in indirect impact. We fear under the current policy it is only a matter of time before potato wart is exported from PEI to the U.S.,” wrote NPC.

The latest potato wart outbreak on PEI began in the fall of 2021. The disease was confirmed on two farms that October. The findings resulted in Canada banning the sale of PEI table potatoes into the US market for four months, ultimately causing hundreds of millions of kilograms of potatoes to have to be destroyed. The US still prohibits the importation of PEI seed potatoes.

Between October 7, 2021, and July 2023, CFIA collected and analyzed 48,789 soil samples from PEI fields. Potato wart was detected in four fields in addition to the two fields initially identified as infected. The most recent detection was identified in samples tested from March 11, 2023, to June 23, 2023.

In December 2023, CFIA announced that there had been no new detections of the fungus.

Also in December, CFIA unveiled its procedures for formulating, completing, and executing new strategies to reduce the risk of PEI potato wart spreading to the United States.

Now, CFIA is working on an updated plan to replace the current Potato Wart Domestic Long Term Management Plan. The response plan includes three risk management documents, which focus on biosecurity, seed potato production, and how to manage fields where the disease has been detected.

In its comments to CFIA, NPC called Canadian efforts at potato wart control insufficient.

“Beyond the initial temporary prohibition on movement of potatoes to the U.S. and the ongoing prohibition on seed movement, CFIA has taken no steps to mitigate the risk of Potato Wart spread to the U.S.,” wrote NPC.

NPC called CFIA unsuccessful in containing the spread of potato wart within PEI. Specifically, NPC noted that CFIA’s current Potato Wart Domestic Long Term Management Plan, which allows for the movement of potato wart between high risk and lower risk fields, has allowed disease movement causing “lower risk fields to be upgraded to the highest level of regulation” after soil sampling. “This repeated activity makes it clear that the current plan is inadequate in controlling the movement of Potato Wart and that the disease is moving,” wrote NPC, further noting that the proposed recommendations in the risk management documents for soil testing of potentially exposed fields is “inadequate”.

The release stated that, in regard to seed potato production, NPC concurred with the suggestion in the risk management documents that the cultivation of seed potatoes in index fields should be permanently prohibited.

NPC argued that the risk management documents neglect to consider various downstream sources of disease transmission, such as processing waste, bulk shipment-generated waste entering the U.S., and the planting of potatoes by consumers in their home gardens.

Over the next year, CFIA plans to draft, negotiate, and finalize a new Long Term Management Plan with USDA APHIS. In its letter to CFIA, NPC said the timeline is not urgent enough.

“Given the timeframes necessary to address the comments on these documents, followed by notice and comment on updates to the Long-Term Management Plan, followed by implementation of new mitigation, it will likely be at least three years between the most recent outbreak and action by CFIA to address the risk to the U.S.,” wrote NPC. “This lack of urgency is an ongoing threat to the U.S. industry. If the roles were reversed, it is a standard that CFIA would never allow of the U.S. in addressing a phytosanitary threat of this destructive nature. We strongly urge CFIA to take immediate action to mitigate the risks identified by USDA APHIS.”

The NPC’s full letter can be read here.

Read all the Spud Smart potato wart coverage here.

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