The discovery of 80 blighted potatoes among last autumn’s crop is threatening economic ruin on Canada’s “Spud Island.”

The red soil of Prince Edward Island produces around 30% of the nation’s potatoes, however since inspectors noted the cases of the potato wart fungus a trade quarrel has erupted between Canada and the US, who implemented a temporary ban on potato imports last October that has slashed shipments from the Canadian province by 50%.

Canadian officials insist that the largest soil sampling exercise ever undertaken has proved that the potato wart fungus, which is unsightly but not toxic, is confined to a small patch. The US insists however that stronger quarantine measures are necessary before the ban will be lifted.

Prince Edward Island growers argue that this is merely indicative of the US’s political drive for trade protectionism after a bumper 2000 potato crop in North America. Ivan Noonan, general manager of the potato board of Prince Edward Island, explained that the fungus is a cover for a bid to keep Canadian potatoes off the US market.

Officials from the US industry group, the National Potato Council, deny such allegations furiously. Spokesman Dave Layway commented: “[it] is such a dangerous disease to get, we just have to be very cautious.” Indeed, Canada has itself been cautious enough to ban imports of Newfoundland potatoes since 1912.

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This month could well prove the last chance for a quick resolution, as talks in January led to an agreement that the US sends scientists to Europe to consult with experts on the fungus. If no quick resolution is found, litigation under the North American Free Trade Agreement could take over a year.