P.E.I. Potato Board says tampering cost industry more than $10 million

Steve Sharratt
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Tampered potatoes

There’s likely only one person on P.E.I. who can reveal the real story behind the potato tampering attack that has now cost the Island potato industry more than $10 million dollars.

It’s been over a year since potatoes with needles deliberately inserted into the tubers first appeared on store shelves and the hefty reward of $500,000 has gone unclaimed.

“We feel the tampering issue has now cost our industry at least $10 million,’’ said Brenda Simmons, with the P.E.I. Potato Board.

The shocking figure drew a few gasps when revealed to the standing committee on agriculture recently as potato growers come to grips with what they describe as agri-terrorism.

RELATED: Potato tampering mystery remains unsolved

Since October 2014, almost a dozen incidents of sewing needles inserted into potatoes have been reported throughout the Maritimes

Even potatoes at the Cavendish Farms french fry plant in New Annan were targeted.

A reward that went from $100,000 to $500,000 as of last Aug. 15 failed to produce a relevant tip for police.

The cash reward was dropped back to $100,000 and has since expired.

“It is quite odd that offering such a large reward did not bring up the tip to solve the case,’’ said RCMP Sgt. Kevin Baillie

“One can only speculate, but in my opinion only one or two persons likely have any knowledge of this offence.”

The RCMP even checked a sewing needle shop in Summerside as part of their investigations and interviewed well-known pesticide opponent Sharon Labchuk.

“The industry shows no remorse,’’ says Labchuk. “It has exercised its inflated sense of entitlement by making Canadian taxpayers fork over millions for metal detection equipment.”

The $10 million expense includes detection equipment purchased, modifications to buildings and packing lines, and 100,000 pounds of destroyed potatoes.

That total, says Simmons, does not include any costs accumulated by the lengthy RCMP investigation.

“It was probably going to happen anyway,’’ suggested board manager Greg Donald about detection systems. “You could say we’ve become leaders in these new safety protocols.”

Board officials suggested foreign material detection equipment might be needed one day across the entire produce industry.

ssharratt@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianSteve

Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board, RCMP

Geographic location: Iceland, New Annan, Summerside

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Sharon Labchuk
    December 09, 2015 - 16:06

    @My Questions: Mean-spirited is the potato industry contaminating every drop of PEI's drinking water with chemical fertilizer and then forcing citizens to either pay for their own water filtration systems or dig deeper wells in an effort to locate less contaminated water. Mean-spirited is polluting the air citizens breathe with toxic potato pesticides. Paying for your own metal detection equipment is the cost of doing business in the food industry.

  • My Questions
    My Questions
    December 09, 2015 - 12:52

    Ms. Labchuk's absolutely mean-spirited response to the attack on family farms here in PEI is disappointing. Someone deliberately targeted the farms to try and do major damage (hurt someone or hurt livestock, put the farmers out of business and their employees out of work and so on), and as a result, farmers had to spend millions and millions on equipment to protect the public. Government helped, as they would with any terrorist attack. The farmers still had to pay the majority of the bill. The farmers and the government did the right thing to protect people from ingesting needles. Why is Ms. Labchuk continuing to act this way towards them?

    • Just Sayin
      December 09, 2015 - 16:34

      My Questions OK, now for some answers. First, Labchuk is not mean spirited but she certainly fighting for the environment, which most farmers are not.One example is the fish kills. Second, that someone deliberately put pins in potatoes is correct but I would hardly call them terrorists, Thirdly, farmers have not spent millions and millions on equipment, government paid most of it,as Sharon says “The industry shows no remorse,’’ says Labchuk. “It has exercised its inflated sense of entitlement by making Canadian taxpayers fork over millions for metal detection equipment.” “It was probably going to happen anyway,’’ suggested board manager Greg Donald about detection systems. “You could say we’ve become leaders in these new safety protocols.” Now if you want to advance a conspiracy theory, how about this. Since the Board Chairman knew the industry would have to take these new safety protocols, maybe farmers themselves created this scare tactics to get the governments to pay for most of this equipment. Sounds plausible to me. There is no doubt these needles have caused farmers an extreme problem, no one denies that, but please, if you or Ms Simmons want to make outlandish claims without any proof, you are going to lose sympathy from just about everyone.

  • UPWESTER
    December 09, 2015 - 10:31

    Ms Simmons seems to be a little short on explaining the $10 Million cost .The reward money was never paid (and BTW, Gail Shea's govt put up the $400,000 of the reward, thank you Gail) 100,000 lbs of potatoes at ten cents lb is $10,000. The new scanning equipment was paid for by Gail Shea's government, so Ms Simmons,like Ricky Ricardo said to Lucy, "you got a lotta splainin to do".... BTW, to quote the Board Chairman ,“It was probably going to happen anyway,’’ suggested board manager Greg Donald about detection systems. “You could say we’ve become leaders in these new safety protocols.” So once again, where is the $10,000,000 cost? When I looked out the window this morning, the sky wasn't falling.

    • My Questions
      My Questions
      December 09, 2015 - 14:14

      Good Afternoon, Upwester: I heard you have questions. Perhaps more explanation was given but not included in the article. The costs of the foreign material detection equipment, installation, modifications to packing/processing lines (including electrical and engineering costs), and in some cases, adding on to buildings in order to fit this equipment into the packing lines, is well in excess of $9,000,000. The volume of lost potatoes was much higher than 100,000 lbs, and easily exceeded $500,000 in value. Additionally, many farms invested in surveillance equipment, enhanced security systems, signage, etc. I did not include the reward fund in my estimate, and while we greatly appreciated the excellent work that Minister Shea did under tight timelines to obtain $1.5 million in federal funding assistance for PEI farms and packing sheds, none of that money was allocated to the reward. Hope this "splainin" helps clarify it for you, and thank heavens the sky isn't falling. The very sad part is that the farmers and both levels of government had to spend hard earned dollars responding to a senseless attack on our industry and to ensure consumer safety.

    • Don
      December 09, 2015 - 19:48

      You got it , Upwester. Media here doesn't ask questions, just goes with the press relaese.

    • UPWESTER
      December 10, 2015 - 17:14

      My Questions, I don't mean this unkindly but I simply don't believe you.Various levels of governments paid the lions share for this equipment. You seem to forget these stories were already in the papers.Remember the washing plant at New Annan? As far as the $500,000. figure for lost revenue that you quote, that translates into 5,000,000 pounds at $0.10 a lb. I don't dispute that there was considerable damage done to the product for a while, what I object to is the exaggeration of costs. It reminds me of the beef plant in Borden, the whole world was against them when in fact all the damage was being done internally by management and Board . If you want to plead your case, please do it honorably, and then you may get some sympathy, not by attacking Sharon Labchuk, who by the way, I don't know, other than by reputation..