Washington Denied Import Data

Published online: Jun 12, 2002
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Washington State’s Potato Commission has been denied access through the freedom of information act to reports from the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service relating to potatoes imported into the states from Canada.

The WPC resorted to legal recourse to gain access to importer’s exempt commodity forms to determine whether bulk loads of potatoes are being rerouted to the fresh market, according to the Columbia Basin Herald.

Pat Boss, WSPC executive director, says he has called the USDA and explained that the Committee has a right to the information so it can make sure the bulk loads of potatoes coming from Canada are not being directed to the fresh market.

Boss said the information the Commission is requesting is triggered by the Federal Marketing Order. “We seem to be having a lot of difficulty getting that information from our government,” he was quoted.

The Washington Potato Committee, an entity separate from the Commission which oversees the enactment of the Federal Marketing Order, must make sure potatoes coming into the country are inspected and graded appropriately and see where the product goes.

The law offices of Garvey, Schubert and Barer in Seattle requested under the Freedom of Information Act forms from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service relating to imported potatoes from Canada and other countries to Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The information would be helpful in tracking imports and allowing Pacific Northwest growers to make better growing and shipping decisions.

AMS officials said theywould supply the forms but that most of the 30-some information blocks would be blacked out.

An appeal has been filed to the administrator of the USDA-AMS citing case law. Boss said potatoes traveling to Canada are more often than not blocked from entering a particular province by another province when bulk easements, required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are denied.

This is frustrating the Pacific Northwest industry by the one-way flow of raw product. “We find USDA’s position on this matter to be quite strange,” Boss said. “They seem to be protecting importers of Canadian products at the expense of U.S. producers.”