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APHIS, potato industry working to reverse ban on domestic exports to South Korea

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service is working to provide data to officials in South Korea that it hopes will result in a reversal of a decision to ban potato exports from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Jim Cramer, director of the market services program area for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said that the agency received word Aug. 10 that South Korea would begin enforcing the ban effective Aug. 17. The ban was issued in the wake of concerns about the zebra chip disease. According to USDA, zebra chip is a bacterial disease spread by the potato psyllid. When potatoes are cooked, the striping becomes obvious.

"ZebraZebraChip1Research associates Godfrey Miles of the Agricultural Research Service and Venkatesan Sengoda, a researcher at Washington State University, evaluate symptoms in fried chips made from potatoes infected with zebra chip. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) chip does not pose any food-safety risk and is only a quality and production issue," Mr. Cramer told The Produce News on Aug. 21.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, said that South Korea has been an important market for Oregon potato producers. "Oregon shipped 11,000 tons of fresh potatoes to [South] Korea in 2011-2012," he said. "We anticipated at least that volume this year."

Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, told The Produce News Aug. 21, "Right now, Idaho does not ship a lot of fresh potatoes to South Korea. We respect the Koreans' rights to review these matters. We do believe that when APHIS sits down with their counterparts in South Korea, concerns will be addressed."

Mr. Muir confirmed that there are no consumer risks associated with zebra chip.

Discussions between the United States and South Korea are progressing. "The Oregon Potato Commission, along with the entire U.S. potato industry, has provided input to APHIS for their background," Mr. Brewer told The Produce News Aug. 21. ZebraChip2Tubers infected with zebra chip disease show dark, stripe-like symptoms in the tissue. The damage becomes even more pronounced when the potatoes are made into chips or fries. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Munyaneza/U.S. Department of Agriculture)"We believe APHIS is totally prepared to represent us and hopefully reopen this important market for fresh potato shipments very quickly. The U.S. industry will continue in an advisory capacity. We believe APHIS will represent us very well."

Mr. Cramer said that the Oregon Department of Agriculture has been involved with conference calls with the industry and APHIS to address the matter. He said that the presentation of scientific data showing there is little risk to South Korea's potato industry should allay concerns about zebra chip.

"Based on our conference calls, we believe that APHIS will propose a workable plan to re-open the market soon and that the science-based information will work toward a long term realization of posing little risk to their own production," he said.

"The U.S.-Korean agricultural bilateral meetings take place the last week of August in San Francisco where this will be discussed, and hopefully a resolution will be negotiated," he added.