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

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 9, 2015

Tampered potatoes

©Submitted photo

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.