An official from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the investigation into the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields could take until 2023 to complete.
A group from CFIA made a presentation Friday afternoon to members of the legislature’s standing committee on natural resources.
Committee chair Cory Deagle was so taken aback by the mention of 2023 he asked the presenter to repeat what he had just said.
Chief Plant Health Officer David Bailey is one of the CFIA scientists meeting with scientists from the U.S., and reiterated the investigation could take more than another year to complete.
“The CFIA is pulling out all the stops to complete the investigation into these detections, and we’re moving as quickly as possible. But this is a science-based exercise with our United States counterparts, and it takes time,” Bailey said.
“Given the scope of the investigation, this compounds the time question. And so, they may not be ready, and I want to underscore, may not be ready, may is an important word here, before 2023.”
Highest risk fields
The CFIA imposed a ban on fresh potato exports from P.E.I. to the U.S. in November, saying without the move, the Americans would have brought in their own measures which would have been much more difficult to reverse.
Bailey told the committee it will take time for investigators to collect all the information the Americans are looking for to satisfy them that it is safe to start shipping P.E.I. potatoes south of the border again.
The CFIA said that’s because hundreds of fields adjacent to and associated with the two infected fields now have to be tested, and the race is on as the winter freeze approaches.
“We’re prioritizing the highest-risk fields for soil sampling because once we’ve done that, we believe that we can provide that information that will also help manage that risk question,” Bailey said.
“It’s very difficult to give a specific sort of critical path of timelines. We do not control their [U.S.] decision-making and we do not control when they have comfort, from a risk tolerance perspective.”
Bailey said the CFIA is hoping to have the results of the national potato wart survey to present to the Americans at the end of this year or early in the new year, which he says is a key piece for the United States.
While the Americans want to conduct their own risk assessment, Bailey said Canadian science may be of value in areas such as the effectiveness of sprout inhibitors to prevent growth of the fungus on table stock potatoes that are shipped.
“We know we’ve got a good place to work from with the efficacy on sprout inhibitors, for example. So we are prioritizing that work.”
The president of the CFIA, Siddika Mithani, said the agency will continue to collect and submit samples for testing as long as the weather will allow, until the ground freezes.
She said the CFIA is also looking into technologies that could be used to continue soil sampling as long as possible this winter.
But Mithani also cautioned the testing will take time.
“Although we are accelerating efforts for sampling and testing, the completion of the investigation is difficult to project,” Mithani said.
“Its accuracy cannot be compromised by expediency, for fear of not satisfying the import requirements of a desired market.”
MLAs expressed frustration with the confidential nature of CFIA’s long-term potato wart management plan, which so far they haven’t been allowed to see. CFIA said that is to protect the identify of affected growers.
But Mithani did promise to provide MLAs with a redacted version, without identifying names, as quickly as possible.