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article imageGM flax contamination threatens Canadian production

By Stephanie Dearing     Jan 20, 2010 in Food
Now that it has been confirmed that Canadian flax has been contaminated with the genetically modified variety called Triffid, taken off the market in 2001, Canadian flax growers are scrambling to find a market for their product.
The confirmation of the gm contamination is jeopardizing Canadian flax production. Flax growers will face more red tape and increased expenses just to be able to sell their crops, and, claims one farmer, the risk of exploitation by grain companies. The situation is expected to prompt a decrease in production, as well as a loss of market share. Canada has been the world's largest producer of flax. While the search for the source of the contamination is still underway, farmers are now required to test their crops before shipping the grain.
European tests confirmed Canadian flax was contaminated with the decommissioned gm variety Triffid in July 2009. However, Canada wanted to create its own test to determine whether or not Triffid was contaminating Canadian flax shipments. The Canadian-developed Triffid flax was to be destroyed after Canada delisted it as a crop. The Canadian Grain Commission said the contamination level is so low - one seed out of every 10,000 seeds -- the source of contamination may not be found.
An unnamed merchant for a grain company said "... low levels of genetic modification were being found in samples taken across Canada." Testing is said to be slowing down sales of flax. Another source said approximately 5% of the 2,200 samples submitted for testing were positive for Triffid.
Grain farmers are now saying the recommendation to buy certified gm-free seed will leave farmers open to exploitation. National Farmer's Union spokesman, Terry Boehm said “It is false to simply assume that certified seed is safer than farm-saved. For one thing, it is almost certain that the certified seed system is the source of the Triffid contamination farmers are now facing. Furthermore, it has now been determined that two varieties of flax are contaminated with Triffid at the breeder seed level (varieties Normandy and Mons).” Boehm cautioned that policies should not be allowed to be set by a handful of powerful grain companies. Grain companies have already stipulated which labs farmers can use for testing.
Canadian flax growers are also concerned about the erosion of Canada's reputation as a producer of flax.
The two varieties that have been found to be contaminated with Triffid both originate from the University of Saskatchewan, which had also created the Triffid variety. However, the University of Saskatchewan has not been confirmed as the source of the contamination.
Flax growers are urged to test seed for gm contamination prior to planting, or to purchase certified gm-free seed. Farmers are also urged by grain companies to provide proof of testing or purchase of certified seed. The test costs $105.00.
After the gm contamination was found, Europe refused shipments of flax from Canada until new quality controls were put into place.
Canadian growers are bearing the brunt of the contamination, paying for the tests out of their own pockets, as well as experiencing slow sales. The Flax Council of Canada is trying to persuade Europe to increase the level of gm contamination it will accept in shipments of flax.
Contaminated flax is being sold to China and the United States. Brazil has since ordered all Canadian flax imports to undergo testing for gm contamination.
Professor Joe Cummins, a Canadian genetic scientist has theorized the Triffid flax, grown in the field in trials, has contaminated all Canadian flax. He theorized that the gm contamination occured long ago but was never detected in tests until last year. Cummins is Professor Emeritus of Genetics with the University of Western Ontario.
Last year, Canada pulled in over $300 million from European flax sales.
In December 2009, Russian grown flax was also found to be contaminated with a gm flax product.
More about Flax, Triffid flax, Canadian flax contaminated, University saskatchewan, Cdc mons
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