Potato tampering mystery remains unsolved

Mitch MacDonald
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A potato field in Prince Edward Islans will soon be ready for the harvest. The deadline has passed for the $500,000 reward for information in the tampering cases.

Farmers are holding out hope an arrest will be made

As the old saying goes, it's not adversity that defines a person or group but rather how they deal with it in moving forward.

That's the perspective P.E.I.'s potato industry is taking after a nearly year-long food tampering mystery that has led to millions of dollars in upgrades, a $500,000 reward and ongoing criminal investigation.

While the investigation continues for RCMP, the deadline for the reward put together by the industry and supporters was this past Saturday.

Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. potato board, said farmers are holding out hope that some of the information received will lead to an eventual arrest.

"We can only hope. Who knows? Maybe there was information over the last few days," said Donald, noting that a $100,000 reward will still remain until Oct. 31.

RCMP began investigating incidents of sewing needles being found in potatoes sold in the Atlantic provinces, which were traced back to Linkletter Farms in Summerside.

The incident led to a voluntary recall by the farm and has had a ripple effect across P.E.I.'s billion dollar industry.

While RCMP details have been scarce, Sgt. Leanne Butler said part of that is to protect the integrity of the investigation.

Butler said RCMP have received a number of tips regarding the investigation although not "a copious amount."

She also said that police still have some members specifically assigned to the file.

"It's a file we're working on all the time. They're working on the tips and sometimes it takes a while to get through all that information," she said. "There are tips (from before the Aug. 15 deadline) we're still working from and some of that information may come out in the future that we're not releasing now."

In addition to the reward money the incident, which federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz described as a form of terrorism, has had other lasting emotional and financial effects on farmers.

Millions of public and private dollars have been pumped into nearly 50 Island farms to introduce state-of-the-art foreign material detection devices and surveillance systems.

As well, farms have been working with RCMP in a "neighbourhood watch" style program, which encourages neighbours to call officers if they suspect anyone suspicious around potato fields.

Donald said those efforts have been crucial in the industry's focus on moving forward and keeping P.E.I.'s strong brand of potatoes alive.

"Our industry hasn't focused on the belly aching, financial or emotional challenges," said Donald. "Instead food safety has continued to be the highest priority. That's what we've focused on.

"It's brought many folks together and in support of the industry and that's a great feeling... (farmers are) very resilient and adaptable and rather than throwing our arms in the air, everyone has put their shoulder into it with the goal of coming out ahead."

  

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Summerside

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