Safe spuds

In­dus­try de­ter­mined to emerge strong from tam­per­ing cri­sis

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM DAY

Safe spuds — the very safest. At­tain­ing that dis­tinc­tion in Prince Ed­ward Is­land, in the wake of dev­as­tat­ing harm de­liv­ered by potato tam­per­ing, is the firm ex­pec­ta­tion of P.E.I. Potato Board GM Greg Don­ald.

Ul­ti­mately, Don­ald be­lieves P.E.I., the coun­try’s largest potato pro­duc­ing province, will not only sur­vive but thrive af­ter be­ing hit with what one long­time Is­land grower has called the worst cri­sis the in­dus­try has faced here over his many years of grow­ing spuds.

Yes, the potato tam­per­ing, which con­tin­ues to be in­ves­ti­gated by the RCMP with no ar­rest to date, has left the in­dus­try reel­ing. Me­tal ob­jects found in some pota­toes are ex­pected to cost the af­fected farms about $1 mil­lion in lost sales.

The cost in any re­duced con­sumer con­fi­dence in P.E.I. spuds is more dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, but could be con­sid­er­able if the cri­sis is not well ad­dressed.

The in­dus­try, though, has been ag­gres­sive in re­sponse to the crim­i­nal ac­tion.

A re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to po­lice catch­ing the guilty party or par­ties has been hiked to a whop­ping $500,000. But more im­por­tantly, per­haps, is the at­ten­tion be­ing placed on re­duc­ing the risk of any po­ten­tially harm­ful potato tam­per­ing tak­ing place in the fu­ture.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is putting up $1.5 mil­lion to help Is­land farm­ers ac­quire and in­stall equip­ment to de­tect and re­move for­eign ma­te­rial.

P.E.I. Potato So­lu­tions (PPS), which opened in New An­nan in Jan­uary 2014 to wash and sort pota­toes us­ing top in­dus­try equip­ment, has spent $360,000 on so­phis­ti­cated me­tal de­tec­tion equip­ment in di­rect re­sponse to the tam­per­ing cri­sis.

The ma­chine went into op­er­a­tion at the start of this month.

A demon­stra­tion was given to lo­cal re­porters ear­lier this month dur­ing a farm tour or­ga­nized by the P.E.I. Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, the P.E.I. Potato Board and the P.E.I. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Fish­eries.

PPS man­ager Chris Hunt in­serted a sewing nee­dle into a potato, which was coloured bright red just to be on the safe side, then placed the spud on a con­veyor belt along with piles of pota­toes rolling through the im­pres­sive wash­ing and sort­ing sys­tem.

The ma­chine, which sends a fre­quency down through all the pota­toes that it runs across, de­tected the tainted potato and spit it out into a bucket in both of two demon­stra­tions.

Hunt beamed as he pulled the red potato con­tain­ing the sewing nee­dle from a bucket.

“Our hope with this is to make a dif­fer­ence in this in­dus­try,’’ he told The Guardian.

“We don’t want this in­dus­try to suf­fer be­cause of one per­son or a group of peo­ple’s ac­tions. We need this in­dus­try to sur­vive. So if this is some­thing that we need to do to help that, we’ll do ev­ery­thing we can.’’

The PPS plant sorts and cleans 140,000 pounds of pota­toes per hour — that’s roughly two trac­tor-trailer loads.

Don­ald is hope­ful this plant com­bined with other me­tal de­tec­tion equip­ment be­ing in­stalled across the province will help earn P.E.I. the stamp of in­dus­try leader in get­ting pota­toes safely to mar­ket.

“We con­tinue to­day to have a strong rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing good qual­ity and safe food,’’ he said.

“So this (potato tam­per­ing) has been a tremen­dous threat to that rep­u­ta­tion.’’

“When all is said and done,’’ he added con­fi­dently, “we will have the safest pota­toes in the world. So we will not only main­tain the rep­u­ta­tion, we will im­prove it.’’


Thea Barker and her grand­fa­ther Jim Mor­ri­son, shop for some new P.E.I. pota­toes at Jewell’s Coun­try Mar­ket re­cently. Is­land farm­ers are tak­ing steps to re­duce the risk of tam­per­ing, while re­as­sur­ing con­sumers their pota­toes are safe.


Pota­toes rolling through the wash­ing and sort­ing sys­tem of P.E.I. Potato So­lu­tions in New An­nan have also been pass­ing through a me­tal de­tec­tor for the past two weeks. The com­pany in­stalled the ex­pen­sive equip­ment in re­sponse to the potato tam­per­ing in­ci­dents in the province.




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