(March 31, 3:21 p.m.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service has established a new destination inspection process for Canadian potatoes entering the U.S., as part of a new trade agreement between the two countries.

The objective of this process is to examine Canada’s new assessment procedure for potatoes and guarantee U.S. consumers are afforded the best possible potato, said John Keeling, president of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Potato Council.

As of March 10, fresh Canadian potatoes crossing the border are subject to random destination inspections to verify compliance for quality and grade standards, Keeling said.

This new program was motivated by a modification in the Canadian Federal Inspection Agency’s Section 8e compliance procedure for Canadian potatoes. Previously, CFIA employees would handle inspections, and instead, are now training people to conduct inspections, making it a more supervised — rather than hands-on — process, Keeling said.

“The industry strongly supports this — we think it’s a positive,” he said.

NO SAFETY ISSUES

The decision by the AMS to initiate this program had nothing to do with potential safety issues related to Canadian potatoes, but rather to make certain consumers receive steady quality and sizing in potatoes, regardless of their origin, Keeling said.

“It’s not about public health and the ability of potatoes to spread disease,” Keeling said. “It ensures that the consumer is consistently getting the most high-quality product on the table, whether it’s from U.S. or Canada.”

The importer must present documentation confirming that they have informed an agent, and a list of inspection offices throughout the U.S. can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/fv/fpbstates/map.htm, Keeling said.

This should prove to be a more thorough and safe system, because, before the change, spot checks of Canadian potatoes were occurring in only one location — Houlton, Maine — and exporters who were unsure of a load’s quality would take advantage of the station’s inconsistent operating hours, Keeling said.

“Quite frankly, this is a more robust look at the Canadian potatoes,” he said. “What happened in Maine was, the inspection stations were only open for certain time periods, and everyone knew when those were, so they just waited if they had a problem.”

Patates Dolbec, St. Ubalde, Quebec, exports potatoes to the U.S., and Gord Medynski, director of sales and purchasing, said he is wary of the timeliness in the new system — and the system in general — as it will likely add to exporting challenges that the devalued American dollar already has created.

“I prefer they left it as is for both parties because I see it being headaches for both of us,” Medynski said. “If a customer likes a product, and the USDA tags a load, they’ve put myself, my transporter, my customer and my customer’s customers on hold.

“I’d like to see North America No. 1, where both sides have a common grade.”

TARGETED SHIPMENTS
Under the new regulations, 5% of annual shipments will be randomly targeted, and if the destination inspections indicate Canadian potatoes are meeting quality and grade standards, it will eventually drop to 2% of loads, Keeling said.

If a load does fail inspection, importers have four options:

  • recondition the shipment and have it reinspected, including the dumping of culls;


  • e-export shipment;


  • send to exempt use; or


  • destroy, according to an AMS document citing Section 8e regulations.



However, Keeling said he has high expectations for the new system, and does not foresee further tightening of the procedure.

“If testing reveals there is a problem, we can go to higher levels of testing, but no one anticipates that will be the case,” he said.