GM Flax Seed Yanked Off Canadian
Market - Rounded Up, Crushed
By Jason Warick
The StarPhoenix

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 in Canada.
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 mid-1990s.
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 this spring.
"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 program.
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.


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