Potato screen­ing con­cern

Group of grow­ers wants gov­ern­ment to help pay for one cen­tral me­tal de­tec­tion screen­ing in Nova Sco­tia

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE - THE GUARDIAN twright@the­guardian.pe.ca

A group of P.E.I. potato farm­ers who all sell pota­toes to the same buyer do not be­lieve it makes sense to each buy and in­stall me­tal de­tec­tors to screen for in­serted nee­dles.

That’s why they want gov­ern­ment funds ded­i­cated for food tam­per­ing screen­ing to go in­stead to­ward me­tal de­tec­tors at the one cen­tral lo­ca­tion where all their thou­sands of pota­toes are un­loaded.

The prob­lem is, that lo­ca­tion is in Nova Sco­tia.

This is prob­lem­atic be­cause the bulk of gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance be­ing of­fered to farm­ers to pur­chase this equip­ment is com­ing from the fed­eral Grow­ing For­ward 2 pro­gram. Each province’s al­lo­ca­tion of funds from this pro­gram can only be spent in that province.

The is­sue was raised in the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture this week. O’Leary-In­ver­ness MLA Robert Hen­der­son says sev­eral of the 15 grow­ers who sell to buyer MD Potato in Nova Sco­tia live in his rid­ing and have raised con­cerns about the cost and lo­gis­tics of each farm in­stalling me­tal de­tec­tors.

“They are con­cerned that their con­tracts could be jeop­ar­dized if they’re not able to guar­an­tee a safe prod­uct and with this potato tam­per­ing is­sue that’s been go­ing on through­out the Mar­itimes,” Hen­der­son said.

“The fact that there’s 15 grow­ers all send­ing their prod­uct to one lo­ca­tion off-Is­land, they would like to be treated fairly by be­ing able to ac­cess the avail­able fund­ing and put the equip­ment in one lo­ca­tion ver­sus put it in 15.”

The on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into nails and nee­dles turn­ing up in P.E.I. pota­toes has been called a cri­sis by P.E.I. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and ‘food ter­ror­ism’ by the head of the potato board.

The potato in­dus­try re­cently raised its re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest to $500,000, but af­ter months of in­ves­ti­gat­ing, no ar­rests have been made.

That’s why many Is­land farm­ers are now look­ing to in­stall me­tal de­tec­tors, to en­sure the public re­tains its trust in the safety of P.E.I.’s fa­mous pota­toes.

The fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have jointly ded­i­cated more than $3 mil­lion to help farm­ers with the costs of in­stalling se­cu­rity mea­sures like me­tal de­tec­tors at their farms, but this help does not cover 100 per cent of these ex­penses.

That’s why Hen­der­son says an ex­cep­tion for the fund­ing should be made for the 15 grow­ers who sell to the same buyer in Nova Sco­tia – to cut down on costs and also to help en­sure these farm­ers do not lose their con­tracts.

“In my opin­ion, with all the in­ter-pro­vin­cial co­op­er­a­tion that we’re talk­ing about lately, it seems il­log­i­cal to me that we couldn’t make the ex­cep­tion in this par­tic­u­lar case to ben­e­fit these Is­land grow­ers, which adds to min­i­miz­ing our trade deficit in the province and im­proves the rep­u­ta­tion of Canada’s Food Is­land.”

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alan McIsaac said he would be will­ing to speak with his coun­ter­parts in Nova Sco­tia to de­ter­mine whether al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions could be found.

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