Starting Dec. 1, western Canadian flax will have to be tested for the presence of genetically modified (GM) flax before elevators will accept delivery.
It’s part of the protocol reached recently between Canada and the European Union (EU) to ensure the EU gets GM-free flax from Canada, says Flax Council of Canada president Barry Hall.
If a laboratory test finds traces of GM flax farmers need not worry. There are markets that will accept it, including Canadian crushers, Hall said in an interview Nov. 6. The key is to identify and segregate GM flax through the handling system so exports to the EU remain GM free.
“You’re not going to be drawn and quartered and ostracized for it (having GM flax),” Hall said. “We just need to work with you to get it to hell out of the system once and for all. That’s really the message we’re trying to get out.”
In a statement released last week, the flax council says the industry will try its best to pay farmers as much for their GM containing flax as for conventional flax.
“There is a commitment by all industry participants to see that such product is handled and marketed into a marketplace which is not sensitive to this GMO event,” the statement says in part.
Canada stopped shipping flax to the EU, normally the destination for half to two-thirds of Canada’s flax exports, late this summer after EU authorities found traces of GM flax in Canadian cargoes.
That GM flax is believed to be CDC Triffid, a Canadian GM flax approved for release in Canada and the United States in the late 1990s, but deregistered in 2001 over fears its commercialization could disrupt flax exports to the EU.
It was thought all the CDC Triffid pedigreed seed had been collected and processed. Canadian authorities are still investigating why traces of it are showing up now. But Hall stressed this is not the time to “shoot, shovel and shut up.” an expression often used to describe farmers who destroy a diseased animal rather than report it to authorities.
“No one is out to make an example of them (farmers for having GM flax),” Hall said. “It’s hard to convey that because lord knows what the coffee shop talk is.”
Canada’s flax industry wants to remove all traces of GM flax as quickly as possible, the flax council said in its statement.
“Unexpected delivery of CDC Triffid-contaminated flax will put at risk the entire flax export recovery plan for which considerable effort from all facets of the industry are working towards reestablishment.
“In order for this campaign to be successful, producers and the industry must work together with open communication and complete trust.”
The flax council is recommending flax samples be sent via courier to Quantum Genetics in Saskatoon for GM testing. Other laboratories will be recommended as they are accredited, Hall said.
Quantum Genetics’ co-ordinates are as follows: Mailing address: Lab 8 410 Downey Road, Saskatoon, Sask., S7N 4N1.
The protocol is a first step towards restoring Canadian flax exports to the EU. Canadian exporters will move slowly at first given the potential financial risk in shipping flax that might contain traces of GM flax, despite the protocol, he added.
Almost all Canadian flax is exported to the EU via Thunder Bay, which usually closes for the winter late next month. [email protected]