- A genetically modified (GM) flax seed developed at the
University of Saskatchewan has been taken off the market because of European
fears the variety will contaminate other flax produced in Canada.
- The last of the 200,000 bushels of Triffid flax seed
worth at least $2.5 million was rounded up from farms across the Prairies
and crushed earlier this year and deregistered April 1.
- "Yes, it was frustrating. We lost money. We lost
a chance to provide a useful product to our customers," said John
Allen, director of market development for Quality Assured Seeds, a farmer-owned
company that was licensed by the U of S to sell Triffid.
- Triffid, named after the tall, three-legged walking plants
in a 1950s science fiction novel and movie, is now illegal to sell or grow
- Crop varieties are commonly deregistered when they become
obsolete or defects are discovered. The Triffid case is unique because
it's the first time a productive, federally approved crop has been removed
from the market.
- It's also the first time farmers have led the call to
make a crop unavailable to them.
- Triffid, modified to be resistant to the herbicide sulfonylurea,
was developed by U of S Crop Development Centre senior research scientist
Alan McHughen and registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in
- The licence was granted to the Regina company, and Allen
said they "anticipated a substantial amount of profit" from the
sales. The U of S also stood to profit from the royalties.
- But European customers, which buy 60 per cent of Canada's
flax, said they didn't want to buy any GM flax.
- Canadian flax farmers and producer groups, afraid the
Europeans would label all Canadian flax as contaminated, pushed for the
elimination of Triffid.
- "We acted as the catalyst. We got the production
shut down," said Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada.
- "It was one more step to reassure our European customers."
- The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission also pushed
for deregistration. "We're concerned about losing markets. European
customers are not interested in GM flax. We felt we should address the
issue," said commission executive director.
- The seed was never grown commercially, but roughly 40
farmers from across the Prairies were multiplying the 200,000 bushels of
seed for future marketing and use.
- They had to clean out their flax bins and ship the seed
to Canamera Foods in Manitoba for crushing.
- Once the food inspection agency had written assurances
all of Canada's Triffid seed had been eliminated, the variety was deregistered
- "There was nothing wrong with the variety. It met
all the requirements, (but) they all agreed the variety should be deregistered.
This is unique," said Grant Watson, head of the agency's registration
- Crop Development Centre director Rick Holm said the university
will lose the royalty money, but it also spent significant resources and
staff time developing Triffid.
- "It's disappointing, but the Crop Development Centre
exists to help farmers," Holm said. "It would have been irresponsible
of us to fight to keep it on the market, and face the possibility of our
farmers losing an export opportunity."
- Triffid was the first GM crop variety developed by the
centre, which registers about a dozen varieties per year. Holm said the
centre will not try to develop any more GM varieties because of concerns
in Europe and elsewhere.
- More than half of all Canadian flax is produced in Saskatchewan,
with the remainder grown in Manitoba and Alberta.