If there’s CDC Triffid or any other genetically modified (GM) flax in Canada’s grain pipeline the Canadian Grain Commission has yet to find it.
“I don’t know how many samples they have run,” Flax Council of Canada president Barry Hall said in an interview Oct. 2. “They (CGC) have been working away diligently and they have not really uncovered anything.”
Nevertheless, the fallout from the European Union (EU) finding small amounts of what it claims to be CDC Triffid, a GM flax, in two cargoes imported from Canada last month is spreading. EU bakers notified their customers in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Thailand that products they exported there could be contaminated with GM flax, according to a National Farmers Union (NFU) release.
Cereals, bakery products and nut/seed products in 25 other countries – mostly in the EU – are being removed from grocery shelves because of possible GM flax contamination, the NFU says.
“We don’t seem, in this country, to be able to get any answers and it’s pointing to the lack of a decent regulatory system,” NFU president Stewart Wells said in an interview.
If the EU has a test for CDC Triffid why doesn’t Canada, Wells asked?
Last week the Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon was still working on a so-called “event-specific” test to positively identify CDC Triffid, Hall said.
“More resources have been put on it this week and I think they’re making some headway,” Hall said. “People out there think we’re dragging our feet… (when) this is sorted out it will be shown to have been worthwhile that we took the time to do it right and know exactly what we’re dealing with. And it will make testing and screening going forward easier and more efficient and more accurate.”
CDC Triffid’s release was approved in Canada and the U. S. and the variety was registered in 1998, but never commercialized. It was deregistered and the pedigreed seed destroyed in 2001 over fears the variety could disrupt Canadian flax exports to the EU where GM flax was never approved.
LOCATING THE SOURCE
While the CGC has yet to turn up any GM flax, one industry official cautioned that it’s possible some will be found. There’s lots of speculation about what happened. The most popular hypothesis is that not all the pedigreed seed was collected. It might have come just from cleaning out the corner of a granary.
No matter the source, trade and flax prices have been severely harmed. It points to the need for Canadian regulators to keep better track of deregistered GM crops, Wells said. Potential harm to markets should also be considered before new varieties are registered, he added.
“We need a complete review of Canada’s (crop variety) regulatory system,” Wells said. “What’s its mandate? Who is it supposed to protect? Can CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency have integrity with this dual mandate to protect and to increase trade?”
It’s not illegal for Canadian farmers to grow and deliver an unregistered variety to the elevator. However, such crops are to receive the lowest grade.
It is illegal however, to sell an unregistered variety as a named variety for seed purposes.
Meanwhile, Canada’s flax industry is working with the CGC to set up protocols to assist in restoring flax exports to the EU, Hall said.
“They (EU) need the flax,” he said. “They’re working with us, they’re working with the authorities over there looking for solutions.”
And Canada needs the EU. Canada routinely exports 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes of flax to the EU annually, accounting for 60 to 70 per cent of the country’s flax exports.
But no matter what protocols are established so long as the EU has zero tolerance on GM traits in flax, it’s going to be difficult to restore trade, Hall added.
In the meantime, Canada’s small flax-crushing industry might find increased demand for Canadian linseed oil in the EU since any GM traits that might be present are not transferred from the seed to the linseed oil. [email protected]