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EU, Canada Agree To Flax-Shipping Protocol

“We found less than 10 positive results in the value chain (handling system) so far.”


The European Union (EU) has accepted Canada’s protocol designed to keep GM flax out of Canadian flax exports to the EU.

It’s another step towards resuming Canadian flax exports to the European Union (EU), on hold since genetically modified (GM) flax was detected in several shipments, said Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) spokesman Remi Gosselin. Despite the protocol flax exports to the EU are not expected to return to normal quickly.

Meanwhile, the CGC has found traces of GM flax in composite samples of Canadian flax collected from transfer and export terminals, Gosselin said. It’s too early to tell how widely spread GM flax is within Canada or where the contamination originated, he said.

“We found less than 10 positive results in the value chain (handling system) so far,” Gosselin said in an interview Oct. 26.


Under the protocol developed by the CGC and Canada’s flax industry grain handlers have agreed to take and hold samples of flax as it’s delivered by farmers to country elevators. The companies will not be required to test those samples, but presumably they would if GM flax is found in tests taken further down the pipeline.

Grain handlers will take composite samples from rail cars being loaded with flax and get them tested by private laboratories accredited by the CGC. The test results should be known before the flax is unloaded at terminal elevators in Thunder Bay.

The CGC will take samples as flax is loaded on ships destined for the EU and certify those cargoes found to be GM free (one GM flax seed or less in 10,000 seeds.) If GM flax is found, the shipment will not be certified. It will be up to the shipper to decide what to do with it, Gosselin said.

Grain handlers will cover the

costs of sampling and testing rail cars. Traditionally, the CGC charges a fee for its services, “but there needs to be a discussion around that,” Gosselin said.


The CGC will be able to start sampling and testing flax exports in two weeks.

“Logistically it’s unlikely that shipments are going to resume in the next two weeks,” Gosselin said. “It really depends on the industry’s ability to position product forward at port position because it’s my understanding they have been seeking alternative markets at this point.

“Ultimately the real thing that will allow trade to resume with the EU will depend on the industry’s ability to segregate FP967 (CDC Triffid) out of shipments to the EU and the CGC’s ability to provide certification on those shipments in order to meet the (EU’s) zero-tolerance policy.”

Flax Council of Canada president Barry Hall agrees.

“This (protocol) is no guarantee of the resumption of trade,” he said in an interview Oct. 30.

Canadian flax exporters will have to be confident exports to the EU are GM free given the financial risk of having cargoes rejected, he said.

“It’s a first step, no question about that, but we certainly wouldn’t want anybody misled that once we got by that problem, trade would automatically resume.”


Although the EU has not restricted Canadian flax imports, the potential for that existed, Gosselin said. With the protocol in place such restrictions have been avoided.

It’s believed the GM flax the EU found traces of is CDC Triffid, a variety that received Canadian approval in the late 1990s, but has never been approved in the EU.

CDC Triffid was deregistered in 2001 at the insistence of Canada’s flax industry fearing its commercialization could undermine flax exports to the EU, which then, as now, is Canada’s largest customer.

Given the EU’s reaction to discovering GM flax in Canadian shipments, those fears were justified. [email protected]

About the author


Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.



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