Officials from Canada’s flax industry are in Europe this week to brief government and industry officials on the progress Canada is making removing traces of CDC Triffid, a genetically modified (GM) flax, from Canadian flax.
“It’s getting less and less frequent and less and less intense,” Flax Council of Canada president Will Hill said in an interview March 23.
“Every year we have a mission with the Europeans to inform them of the progress we’re making and bring everybody up to speed,” he said on the eve of the trip.
All pedigreed flax seed is tested for CDC Triffid before planting and farmers are voluntarily submitting bin-run seed for testing. Only three per cent of farmer-submitted samples have traces of CDC Triffid compared to 10 per cent in 2009 when the contamination was discovered, Hill said
And when CDC Triffid is found levels are usually low at 0.01 per cent. That’s equivalent to just one seed in 10,000. However, since the tests are based on four, 60-gram sub-samples the contamination is similar to finding one seed in 40,000, Hill said.
“The message is pretty clear,” said Arborg farmer and Manitoba Flax Growers Association president Eric Fridfinnson. “If people want to do the very best job of making sure it doesn’t turn up the best way is to buy certified seed.”
Fridfinnson is part of the mission, along with Hill and officials from Richardson International and Viterra. Meetings were to be held in Brussels, London, Berlin and Madrid.
“We are not back into the food market and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future,” Fridfinnson said. “The major market is the expeller market, which is the feed and industrial side.”
Industrial flax oil is used to make paint and linoleum and the meal is fed to cattle.
Canadian flax exports to Europe, Canada’s biggest customer, were temporarily blocked in the summer of 2009 after traces of CDC Triffid were discovered in the shipments.
CDC Triffid, developed in the mid-1990s, was genetically modified to tolerate soil residues from Group 2 herbicides. It was approved in Canada and the United States, but deregistered in 2001 over fears it would interfere with sales to Europe where it was not approved.
At first Canadian officials thought the problem might be GM canola dockage in flax. Then it was assumed either a bin of old CDC Triffid seed had been cleaned out, or perhaps a few seed growers or farmers were growing CDC Triffid. Now it’s believed CDC Triffid contaminated breeder seed for other flax varieties developed at the Crop Development Centre.
Canadian flax exports soon resumed to Europe, but only after extensive testing and none is going to the more lucrative food market.
Canadian flax plantings and production have fallen by more than half since 2009. Last year Canadian farmers seeded 695,107 acres of flax and harvested 368,300 tonnes. The five-year average for flax plantings before 2009 was 1.8 million and production averaged 795,120 tonnes.