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Flax industry, CGC race to trace GMO source

(Resource News International) — The Flax Council of Canada, flaxseed exporters and the Canadian Grain Commission have been working extremely hard to identify the source of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) found in a shipment of the commodity to Europe, according to a council official.

The European Union has a zero-tolerance policy for GMOs. The discovery by European labs of the genetic marker in Germany in early September has led to the complete suspension of all Canadian flaxseed imports to Europe, said Barry Hall, president of the Winnipeg-based Flax Council of Canada.

The original shipload of Canadian flaxseed that contained the genetic marker has been unloaded at the Belgian port of Ghent and has been quarantined, Hall said.

European laboratories claim the genetically modified (GM) material in the flaxseed is flax varety FP967, commonly known as CDC Triffid.

Triffid was developed in Canada in the late 1990s by a public research institution, the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon.

The variety, which would have been Canada’s first GM flax, underwent full food, feed and environmental risk assessment analysis and was approved and authorized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and in the U.S. 

Triffid certified seed was never sold to produce flax for food, feed or for processing in Canada. The Flax Council, in what’s been called one of the most sophisticated and extensive risk management plans ever adopted, acquired all of the certified seed produced and had it destroyed or crushed domestically.

The council’s actions were taken to protect the European market by ensuring that no GMO flax was being produced in Canada. Triffid was later deregistered by the CFIA, in 2001.

The recent discovery of GMO markers is the first occasion where GM material has been found in Canadian flax shipments.

Two thirds

The Flax Council and industry are giving this issue the highest priority in an effort to see Canada’s flax trade with Europe resume as soon as possible, Hall said.

Europe represents about 70 per cent of Canada’s flax exports. On average between 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes of Canadian flaxseed, or roughly two-thirds of Canada’s production, is shipped to European destinations on a crop year basis, private sources estimated.

Steps taken so far include having the CFIA confirm that Triffid flax is safe for food, feed and processing.

The council has also created a Flax Risk Management Team and a number of groups that are working closely with the Canadian government. 

The Plant Biotechnology Institute (PBI) in Saskatoon is also in the process of developing a Triffid-specific test, which when developed, will be sent to council-selected laboratories around the world. 

The CFIA is also testing certified flax seed stock. To date no positive GMO results have been found.

The CGC, meanwhile, is undertaking a geographic study of existing flax stocks held in commercial positions throughout Canada. All Canadian companies are participating in the study and are sending appropriate samples from their facilities. It’s hoped the CGC study will determine the nature and location of the GMO material.

The CGC said it will also expand its traditional harvest survey of Canada’s 2009-10 flax crop to determine if there’s any GM material in this year’s crop, and if so, where it is located.

“The Canadian flax industry understands the seriousness of this situation and is acting proactively to identify the source of this marker,” Hall stressed.

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