August 20, 2014

Flax

Learn the Lesson of Flax Contamination.

In late 2009, the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed confirmed the contamination of Canadian flax exports with a genetically modified (GM) flax that has been illegal to sell in Canada since 2001 (Canadian flax growers forced the government to make sure the GM flax never reached the market). Contamination was confirmed in cereals, bakery products, baking mixes and nut/seed products. GM flax is not approved for human consumption in the following 35 countries where contamination reached in September and October 2009 - closing down these export markets: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Japan.

Summary

GM flax seed is not legal to sell in Canada. The GM flax was developed at the University of Saskatchewan and approved by the Canadian government in 1996/1998 but the Flax Council of Canada and the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission convinced the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to remove variety registration for the GM flax in 2001, making it illegal to sell the seeds. Flax growers made sure the GM flax did not reach the market in order to protect their European markets. (around 60% of Canada's flax exports go to Europe.)

Flax flowers

Background:

A GM flax (tolerant to herbicide residues in soil) was developed by controversial scientist and industry proponent Alan McHughen when he worked for the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan. McHughen called the GM flax, "CDC Triffid" in reference to John Whyndham's 1951 horror novel, "The Day of the Triffids" which features terrifying flesh eating plants farmed for oil. The flax was developed with public money through provincial government funding to the CDC. However, the CDC halted its GM research after the flax controversy.

The "CDC Triffid" was approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency but was never commercially grown in Canada. In 2001 about 40 seed growers were multiplying 200,000 bushels of seed for future use but this was all crushed when the flax was taken off the market that year.

Canada is the world's leader in the production and export of flax. Flax is one of Canada’s five major cash-crops, alongside wheat, barley, oats and canola. Canada currently ships 60% of its flax exports to the EU, 30% to the United States, and 4% to Japan. Between 500,000 - 700,000 bushels go to Europe. Before the contamination scandal, cash bids for flax in Manitoba were 9.90-9.92 a bushel. But just based on rumour, before contamination was confirmed, flax bids in Manitoba were down to $6.78 a bushel. This is a fall in price of 32% before the GM contamination was even confirmed.

GM Triffid Flax Timeline

The CFIA has verified the below timetable that CBAN has constructed:

1996: GE “CDC Triffid” flax granted environmental release approval from Agriculture Canada (The CFIA was not yet formed).
1996: Triffid flax granted variety registration from Agriculture Canada, making it legal to sell the seeds.
1996: Triffid flax approved for animal feed – animal health assessment and worker health and safety, handling – from Agriculture Canada.
1998: Health Canada approval for human consumption as food granted.
2001 (April 1): Triffid deregistered by the CFIA, making it illegal to sell the seeds in Canada.

GM Contamination Crisis Updates!

"Liberal Confusion Persists on GM Flax": Some Liberal MPs were still repeating the wrong information that GE “Triffid” flax was never commercially approved in Canada. This article corrects them.

“GE contamination is already costing the taxpayer. The fact that the Harper Government recently pledged up to $1.9 million to help companies pay for testing flax seed is evidence that GE contamination can cost the Canadian government – and this is without the government compensating farmers for their testing costs or market loss. Contamination is inevitable and these costs will keep reoccurring.” - Lucy Sharratt, CBAN Coordinator, from March 16, 2010 Press Release Parliament to debate the need for export market acceptance before commercial release

March 4, 2010: Farm saved flax seed protected! Grain company Viterra and others wanted to force farmers wishing to grow flax in 2010 for Europe to abandon their farm-saved seed and purchase certified seed instead. The industry failed in this attempt. The reversal was announced by the Flax Council of Canada after it learned that that breeder seed samples from three more flax varieties (that makes five in total!) have tested positive for GE contamination! Farmers were very clear that they wanted to keep their saved seed. About 75% of Canada's flax farmers use farm-saved seed. “The best solution is to test the seed supply, both farm-saved seed and certified seed,” said National Farmers Union President and flax producer Terry Boehm. Buying certified seed would have added another cost to farmers who face lower prices and market uncertainty, and are already paying for testing and cleanup.

March 4, 2010: Bill C-474 would stop GE seeds from creating market chaos as seen in the current flax contamination crisis. Click here for information and to take action.

January 18, 2010: Press Release, "Grain Companies Exploit Flax Situation to tighten vise on farmer seed saving" National Farmers Union.

November 18, 2009 : 35 Countries hit by flax contamination as Japan find contamination.

New! October 29, 2009 -Flax contamination briefing for Members of Parliament.

October 5, 2009 - Press Release: GM Flax Contamination from Canada Soars to 28 Countries: But Canadian farmers still have no answers

October 2, 2009 - Update: Protest at Canadian Consulate in Luxembourg over GM flax contamination from Canada, "GMO Cultivation = EU Contamination".

Luxembourg action on flax

September 10, 2009 - Press release: Illegal GM Flax Contaminates Canadian Exports: Contamination of European food threatens Canadian export markets

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