“It’s going to be a wake-up call for somebody.”
– DALE ADOLPHE
Canada’s flax industry will have to change how it does business to restore European Union (EU) confidence if genetically modified (GM) flax is verified in Canadian exports.
Farmers might have to declare the variety of flax they deliver, or grow only certified seed, while exporters might have to test cargoes for GM flax before shipping, if that’s what buyers want, industry officials said last week.
No matter the outcome, it demonstrates how sensitive markets are and the harm that can come from growing unregistered crops.
EU tests indicate two Canadian flax shipments are contaminated with CDC Triffid – a Canadian GM flax deregistered in 2001 and unapproved in the EU. Canadian authorities were expecting to have the results of their own tests this week. A reliable source says Canadian officials suspect there is GM flax in the samples. CDC Triffid is a likely suspect because sizable quantities of pedigreed seed were produced in the late 1990s before being recalled in 1998.
“It’s going to be a wake-up call for somebody (if CDC Triffid is confirmed), whether it’s the grain-handling industry to make sure there is no Triffid there (in the future), or maybe a wake-up call on the quality management system of the developer,” Dale Adolphe executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) said in an interview.
Adolphe’s fingers are crossed that Canada’s pedigreed flax seed is not contaminated. There are safeguards to ensure varietal purity, but mistakes happen. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversees Canada’s pedigreed seed system looking for phenotypic traits; it’s not looking for what’s not supposed to be there like a GM trait, he said.
“We’ll have to renew our good name with the EU and take steps (if CDC Triffid is confirmed in Canadian flax),” said Anastasia Kubinec, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ oilseed specialist.
“There may be more onus put on producers, seed companies and probably the whole flax industry in general for more tracking, declarations and really playing by the rules by not growing deregistered varieties and not using unregistered chemicals.”
The Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents Canada’s major grain companies, has not discussed a declaration system for flax, association executive director Wade Sobkowich said. The threat of penalty for misdeclaring a variety is a deterrent, but the system is less effective if farmers don’t know the variety they are growing. And testing for the presence of GM in a farmer’s flax seed is likely to be costly.
“The declaration itself and the retention of a sample is only good for traceability purposes once a problem has happened,” Sobkowich said.
One farmer cleaning out a bin could be the source of CDC Triffid seed, said Michael Scheffel, CFIA’s national seed section manager.
Even though efforts were made to gather and process all the seed, it’s possible that one or more seed growers sold CDC Triffid seed and one or more farmers continues to grow it.
That would raise questions about how comprehensive the seed recall was. It was voluntary and at the time CDC Triffid was legal to grow and sell, Adolphe said.
The CSGA has a record of which farmers produced CDC Triffid seed. Now it’s trying to reconcile the amount of seed produced with the volume crushed at Altona and Harrowby.
“Everybody is relying on 10-year memory or files they can or can’t find,” Adolphe said. “Trying to trace back one or two years ago is one thing but going back 10 years is another.”
Old records probably won’t explain what’s going on now, he added.
Farmers can pursue flax sales to North American buyers, Kubinec said. However, presumably those prices will be depressed too. In the meantime, she said farmers should keep samples of the flax they’re harvesting for testing in the future if necessary.
It’s not illegal to grow unregistered varieties. The catch is when delivered they automatically receive the lowest grade. However, it is illegal to sell an unregistered variety for seed. [email protected]