Island farmers are willing to put up thousands of dollars to help solve the food tampering crime that resulted in a huge volume of potatoes being pulled from market.
P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald announced Monday that the potato industry in the province has established a fund to cover a reward of up to $50,000 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for inserting sewing needles into potatoes of Linkletter Farms Ltd.
The RCMP is investigating seven incidents of tampering after needles were found in potatoes sold throughout the Atlantic region.
RCMP Sgt. Leanne Butler says close to 800,000 pounds of potatoes were recalled by Cavendish Farms after sewing needles were found inserted in several potatoes at the french fry plant in New Annan.
All the tampered potatoes are believed to have originated from Linkletter Farms in Summerside.
Butler says police have yet to identify any suspect, but adds the RCMP will soon give an update on its investigation.
The RCMP major crime unit, forensic identification unit and members of the East Prince RCMP Detachment have all been involved in the investigation.
“The team is still investigating through interviews but they would like to supplement that with new tips that do come in,’’ said Butler.
Donald says the potato tampering has had a “significant’’ economic impact on Linkletter Farms, noting the business has refrained from marketing potatoes since the incidents arose.
“I know the Linkletters probably went way over and above,’’ he said.
“Their priority first and foremost through this whole process has been consumer safety and I’d say financial cost and their business has been secondary.’’
He believes most purchasers of P.E.I. potatoes view the tampering as an isolated incident, so other farms in the province have not been negatively impacted.
Donald notes the potato industry has been actively adopting food safety and traceability programs over the past number of years. The recent food tampering has led the P.E.I. Potato Board to hire experts to determine what further measures may be adopted.
Donald says potato farmers have also been quick to offer help to Linkletter Farms.
The fund for the reward is being covered through donations coming from among the 250 potato farms represented by the P.E.I. Potato Board.
“There’s been a lot of concern for that farm (Linkletter Farms) and there’s been overwhelming response from folks wanting to help them,’’ said Donald.
Anyone with information that may assist police in their investigation into tampered potatoes from a P.E.I. farm is asked to contact the RCMP at 902-436-9300 or by email to email@example.com and an investigator will respond.
Information may also be provided anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or via the web at www.peicrimestoppers.com.