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Progress On Resuming Flax Exports

“No one should be under the impression that the acceptance of this protocol is suddenly going to open up the market in Europe again.”


Flax industry officials are hopeful a new testing protocol presented to the European Union earlier this month will help restore export trade.

A protocol for testing Canadian flax shipments to ensure they’re not contaminated with genetically modified (GM) flax has been developed in co-operation with the Canadian government and the EU’s Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs (known as DG Sanco).

The protocol – a system of sampling, testing, and documentation – was expected to receive EU approval Oct. 28, Flax Council of Canada president Barry Hall said in an interview last week.

“Progress is being made but no one should be under the impression that the acceptance of this protocol is suddenly going to open up the market in Europe again,” Hall said. “The protocol is stringent and there will be a lot of testing that’s going to have to take place. Hopefully business can be resumed this fall, but it’s not guaranteed at this point.”

The EU has not approved GM flax, but earlier this year EU officials said they found GM flax in flax shipments from Canada. Canadian flax exports have been on hold ever since – not because the EU has formerly blocked Canadian flax imports, but Canadian exporters don’t want to run the financial risk of shipping flax that might be rejected.

“Regardless of the protocol, each member-state (in the EU) retains the right to do further testing,” he said. “So the trade here will have to be very confident that the flax they are putting forward, if tested further, will meet the zero tolerance.

“The Belgium crushers need the seed, there’s no question about that. They are doing everything they can from that side to see this come about, but the trade here needs to be very confident that when that vessel leaves Canada it will work.”

Ideally shipments will resume before the Port of Thunder Bay and St. Lawrence Seaway close in December. Flax shipments could be railed to eastern ports, but that would add cost.

If and when trade resumes,

the fear of finding more GM flax might be reflected in lower flax prices to farmers. Market analysts say farmers are lucky if they can get $8 a bushel for flax right now. Some companies aren’t offering to buy it at all.

Hall said grain companies are asking farmers to sign affidavits that they aren’t delivering GM flax. That assumes the farmer knows what variety he or she is delivering, which isn’t cut and dried given how much farm-saved flaxseed is grown.

Canadian officials suspect the GM flax the EU found was CDC Triffid (FP967). It was approved for release in Canada in the late 1990s and registered. However, it was deregistered in 2001 and the pedigreed seed collected from seed growers before the variety was commercialized over fears its production could disrupt trade with the EU.

It appears not all the CDC Triffid seed was recovered and processed. And the concerns over trade disruptions 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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