Discovery of a trace amount of the GM flax variety Triffid in a shipment to Europe has shut off the major market for Canadian flax. Triffid is a herbicide-tolerant flax developed at the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon in the 1990s. It was never released for commercial production for fear of losing the European market. At the time, any seed growers who had multiplied this variety were asked to dispose of it.
After 15 years, the industry assumed the issue was over. It was a shock when this past summer Triffid trace showed up in a shipment to Europe, which immediately stopped imports. This sparked a scramble to reopen trade.
As of mid-November, Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada, is hoping that two vessels could be loaded before winter freeze-up of the Great Lakes shipping route. But there’s a catch. All shipments of flax bound for Europe must be proven to contain no Triffid seed. That means extensive testing.
Farmers are asked to provide Triffid test results for their flax in addition to the affidavit you normally sign. Quantum Biosciences in Saskatoon is doing the tests. You can mail or drop off representative one kg samples to Quantum Biosciences Inc., Lab 8 –410 Downey Road Saskatoon, SK S7N 4N1 Phone 306-956-2071. Cost for each test is $105.
Hall is worried that farmers who have a positive test will ignore the results and replant the flax and perpetuate the problem. That’s why he’s telling farmers the flax industry will work with them to find an alternate market, with no penalties for this flax. “We need to get this flax out of the system,” he says.
“For flax growers, this is as serious as mad cow,” Hall says. “And it’s incredibly frustrating because there is no associated health or environmental risk.”
As cattle producers have discovered, a discovery such as this means new burdens for the grower. You’re stuck with lower-priced flax, an added expense of testing, and the ultimate responsibility to get any trace of Triffid out of the system. But it has to be done.
To keep on top of developments, visit the Flax
Council website at www.flaxcouncil.caor
call them in Winnipeg at 204-982-2115.