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Japan finds GMOs in Canadian flax

(Resource News International) — News that Japan has found genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a shipment of Canadian flaxseed has increased concern among Canada’s flaxseed industry that additional countries may start halting imports.

The GM material in the Canadian flaxseed is the same material that has been found in shipments to the European Union.

The discovery of the contaminated Canadian flaxseed was reported by Japanese news services on Nov. 16.

The shipment of Canadian flaxseed to Japan consisted of roughly 11,713 tonnes, with the bulk of the product to be turned into oil for industrial uses such as the production of paint. The remainder of the flaxseed, however, was to be used to produce feed and possibly some food for human consumption.

The GM material cannot exceed one per cent, or else it is unfit to be used for animal feed based on Japanese regulations.

All Canadian flaxseed shipments to Japan must now undergo inspection for GM contamination, according to Japanese government officials.

“The amount of Canadian flaxseed imported by Japan on a crop year basis is minuscule in the big picture, but what is concerning is that as more countries hear about Canada’s inability to track down this GM material in its flaxseed shipments, the more it will be subject to inspection and potential suspension,” said Mike Jubinville, an analyst with ProFarmer Canada.

“Can ill afford”

Canadian flaxseed shipments to Japan on a crop year basis are only in the 10,000- to 20,000-tonne range. However, if a country like China starts becoming concerned, that will impact shipments of Canadian flaxseed in the 150,000- to 175,000-tonne range.

“With Canada’s flaxseed shipments to Europe already suspended, the country can ill afford to have shipments to other destinations stopped,” Jubinville said.

Europe represents about 70 per cent of Canada’s flax exports. On average between 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes of Canadian flaxseed, or roughly two-thirds of Canada’s production, is shipped to European destinations on a crop year basis.

Jubinville was unable to explain how the GM material is being found in Canadian flaxseed, considering GM flax was never commercially produced.

Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada in Winnipeg, said he would not comment on the latest developments from Japan.

“I don’t have enough reliable information and will wait until all the facts have been presented and confirmed before making any comment,” Hall said. “There may be nothing to this report at all.”

“Numerous samples”

Hall acknowledged it has been difficult to track back the flaxseed with the GM qualities to the farm gate in Western Canada. 

“The Canadian Grain Commission has been working with numerous flaxseed samples from varying outlets from Western Canada, but has not been able to identify where the GM flaxseed is originating from,” Hall said.

There are currently no varieties of GM flaxseed registered in Canada. FP967, a GM flaxseed variety commonly known as CDC Triffid, received regulatory feed and environmental safety authorizations in 1996, and food safety authorizations in 1998, but was never released for commercial production.

The Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan (CDC) developed Triffid, which is tolerant to soil residues of certain herbicides. Triffid was never marketed as seed for commercial crop production in Canada, and was voluntarily deregistered in 2001 on the basis of market access concerns with the EU. It was believed that all Triffid seed was removed from the marketplace.

Triffid, however, did receive regulatory approvals for food, feed and the environment in both Canada and the U.S.

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