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PEI Potato Industry Crisis

Blaming someone or something for the wrongdoing, mistakes or faults of others for convenience, is an ancient tactic. Scapegoating is used to deflect people away from seeing true agendas of players and in covering the mistakes of those who didn’t prevent the agenda becoming reality.

There appears to be a full blown case of Scapegoating happening in the PEI potato industry crisis. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has become the number one scapegoat blamed for the pain being inflicted on potato seed growers and table stock farmers, which is heavily impacting the Island economy. To a point, it is directing attention away from the other players whose actions have contributed to the crisis.

The NFU doesn’t believe CFIA is without fault, but it is not the primary offender. CFIA’s mandate is “dedicated to safeguarding food, animals, and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada’s people, environment, and economy.” Since the closure of the American border everyone involved has stated, “The science is sound. The science is there.” For the most part that science came from CFIA. So, one moment CFIA has provided great science, and in another, overstepped its reach. There’s outrage concerning use of the word, “infestation.” Through talking with involved parties, it is our understanding that the scientific term was used because of the number of acres connected to Irving and Cavendish Farms operations. Considering how potato wart is transmitted would it not have been irresponsible to have done otherwise since CFIA’s mandate states “The current and future economic prosperity of the Canadian agriculture and forestry sectors relies on a healthy and sustainable animal and plant resource base”? It appears CFIA scientists might be trying to fulfil their mandate.

It is important to remember who the master of CFIA is. It is governed by the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and the Minister of Health. The political realm is open to pressure from corporate and industry lobbyists with agendas. It is an open secret that the PEI Potato industry is highly political.

It needs to be remembered the management plan that came out of the 2000 discovery of potato wart in two Cavendish fields was not just the work of CFIA. The PEI Potato Board and the Province were involved. The Federal Agriculture Minister pointed out that it is the Island government that has control over land management. Why weren’t those fields treed out as then provincial agriculture Minister Mitch Murphy said they would be? Why wasn’t the Netherlands protocol followed? Over two fields, why was the risk ever taken to give trading partners a reason to shut PEI seed and table stock out of markets?

Another important question is: With the decisions that were made in 2000, why were the interests of the processing sector apparently put ahead of our long established world class potato seed industry? Now, more than ever, with climate change increasing risks to plant health, there is a need for ethical independent seed producers working closely with government researchers to ensure viable and accessible seed in the future. Instead, what we may be heading towards is corporate control of seed. Why was the interest of the processing sector apparently put ahead of our table stock industry that supplies highly nutritional inexpensive food to so many people across the world? Can it be legitimately denied this was the case? There is great surprise professed that this closure has happened because of the science is there. Perhaps the amazing part is that it has been this long in happening. Maybe CFIA bought the industry 20 years.

The provincial government is screaming foul over the crisis. The border shouldn’t be closed. It is trade protectionism. The science is there. They are not wrong. Dairy farmers are very familiar with their industry being a football in the trade game. But numerous Island governments have played a role in getting to today’s crisis. By refusing to stand behind the Lands Protection Act they permitted the processor, who should only have ten acres for test plots, to own thousands of acres and dominate the processing and Island potato industry.

This is a costly crisis, and the wrong people will be footing the bill. It is now apparently clear, as should have always been, the importance of the seed and table stock sectors of the industry CFIA is likely the least culpable party in creating this crisis. Hopefully, more will be revealed in the coming days.

Douglas Campbell District Director National Farmers Union, District 1, Region 1 (PEI)

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