EXTRACTS: Alan McHughen, who developed CDC Triffid, gave away small packets of the seed early in the decade – a move criticized by the flax industry at the time. (item 1)
"We'll have to renew our good name with the EU and take steps," said Anastasia Kubinec, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives' oilseed specialist. (item 2)
"Everybody is relying on 10-year memory or files they can or can't find," Adolphe said. "Trying to trace back one or two years ago is one thing but going back 10 years is another." (item 2)
"This is creating havoc," Hall said in an interview. "Companies have lowered prices in the country or are even withdrawing offers. It's sending quite a shock wave in the country." (item 1)
1.CDC Triffid Flax Scare Threatens Access To No. 1 EU Market
2.Changes Likely For Flax Industry
1.CDC Triffid Flax Scare Threatens Access To No. 1 EU Market
Manitoba Co-operator, September 17 2009
*Long deregistered, never commercialized, our first and last GM flax may have popped up overseas
Like a movie monster that refuses to die, CDC Triffid, a genetically modified (GM) Canadian flax deregistered in 2001, has surfaced in Germany, European Union (EU) officials believe.
And flax prices have plummeted just as farmers feared they might when they lobbied to have the variety voluntarily pulled from the market. Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) declared CDC Triffid safe, the EU has not yet approved GM flax.
Earlier this summer, the EU found the genetic marker NPTII in two cargoes of Canadian flax, indicating it had been genetically modified.
Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada says it's hard to fathom how CDC Triffid, which was never commercialized, could be showing up now. As of last week, Hall said he hasn't seen any laboratory results proving the flax in question is CDC Triffid. But a reliable source said signs are pointing in that direction.
The CFIA has a sample of CDC Triffid in storage. Later this week the CFIA and Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) hope to identify the flax in question through their own testing.
The CGC's Grain Research Laboratory has already found the NPTII marker in a sample of flax exported to the EU, CGC spokesman Remi Gosselin said.
Ironically, CDC Triffid, which was developed to tolerate carry-over sulfonylurea herbicide (such as Glean) residues in soil, shares its name with genetically altered, venomous, three-legged plants that wreak havoc in the 1951 science fiction novel, Day of the Triffids.
The EU has so far not blocked imports of Canadian flax or requested all imports be tested, both of which are future possibilities, but EU officials have raised the matter with Canadian trade officials.
"This is creating havoc," Hall said in an interview. "Companies have lowered prices in the country or are even withdrawing offers. It's sending quite a shock wave in the country."
If it is CDC Triffid, every possibility as to how it got into the grain-handling system will be explored, Hall said. The Canadian Seed Growers’ Association has a record of every grower who produced CDC Triffid seed, how much they produced and where.
Pedigreed CDC Triffid seed was thought to have been purchased from seed growers and processed years ago, said Michael Scheffel, the CFIA's seed section national manager.
Of all the crops, flax is the one farmers most often produce from farm-saved seed, Hall said. Flax is also a crop farmers sometimes hold a long time hoping to get better prices.
Unlike canola, flax doesn't outcross easily, nor is it a competitive volunteer.
The least likely explanation is that CDC Triffid was used as a parent when developing new flax varieties.
"There's no way that could’ve happened," said Dorothy Murrell, managing director of the Crop Development Centre.
An official with CFIA said despite safeguards, nothing is impossible.
Alan McHughen, who developed CDC Triffid, gave away small packets of the seed early in the decade – a move criticized by the flax industry at the time. But industry officials find it hard to believe that could have resulted in quantities large enough to affect exports.
“If there is any Triffid seed out there it would be in minuscule quantities,” McHughen, a plant biotechnologist at University of California, Riverside, said in an interview last week. “I can’t believe any farmer in Western Canada would be growing it intentionally anyway, first of all because they are all aware of the sensitivity to growing GM flax... and secondly there are newer varieties out there that make Triffid obsolete.”
McHughen said the EU can’t say for sure it has found CDC Triffid because there are other GM flax genotypes (none grown commercially) and the EU doesn’t have information on them, he said.
“If it turns out to be Triffid, fine, but I would be very surprised,” McHughen added.
Garvin Kabernick, a Sanfordarea farmer and president of the Manitoba Flax Growers Association, said there’s no good time for flax prices to drop, but it’s especially disappointing at harvest time.
National Farmers Union vicepresident Terry Boehm said the best news would be that the flax was contaminated by GM canola. If it is CDC Triffid, access to Canada’s biggest flax customer is in peril.
"This is an absolute nightmare for flax growers and why we worked so hard to have the GM flax removed," he said.
The Organic Trade Association said in a release biotechnology companies should be held responsible for the damage their products cause to markets.
2.Changes Likely For Flax Industry
Manitoba Cooperator, September 24 2009
"It's going to be a wake-up call for somebody." - DALE ADOLPHE
Canada's flax industry will have to change how it does business to restore European Union (EU) confidence if genetically modified (GM) flax is verified in Canadian exports.
Farmers might have to declare the variety of flax they deliver, or grow only certified seed, while exporters might have to test cargoes for GM flax before shipping, if that’s what buyers want, industry officials said last week.
No matter the outcome, it demonstrates how sensitive markets are and the harm that can come from growing unregistered crops.
EU tests indicate two Canadian flax shipments are contaminated with CDC Triffid – a Canadian GM flax deregistered in 2001 and unapproved in the EU. Canadian authorities were expecting to have the results of their own tests this week. A reliable source says Canadian officials suspect there is GM flax in the samples. CDC Triffid is a likely suspect because sizable quantities of pedigreed seed were produced in the late 1990s before being recalled in 1998.
"It's going to be a wake-up call for somebody (if CDC Triffid is confirmed), whether it’s the grain-handling industry to make sure there is no Triffid there (in the future), or maybe a wake-up call on the quality management system of the developer," Dale Adolphe executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) said in an interview.
Adolphe's fingers are crossed that Canada's pedigreed flax seed is not contaminated. There are safeguards to ensure varietal purity, but mistakes happen. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversees Canada’s pedigreed seed system looking for phenotypic traits; it’s not looking for what’s not supposed to be there like a GM trait, he said.
"We'll have to renew our good name with the EU and take steps (if CDC Triffid is confirmed in Canadian flax)," said Anastasia Kubinec, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives' oilseed specialist.
"There may be more onus put on producers, seed companies and probably the whole flax industry in general for more tracking, declarations and really playing by the rules by not growing deregistered varieties and not using unregistered chemicals."
The Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents Canada’s major grain companies, has not discussed a declaration system for flax, association executive director Wade Sobkowich said. The threat of penalty for misdeclaring a variety is a deterrent, but the system is less effective if farmers don't know the variety they are growing. And testing for the presence of GM in a farmer's flax seed is likely to be costly.
"The declaration itself and the retention of a sample is only good for traceability purposes once a problem has happened," Sobkowich said.
One farmer cleaning out a bin could be the source of CDC Triffid seed, said Michael Scheffel, CFIA's national seed section manager.
Even though efforts were made to gather and process all the seed, it's possible that one or more seed growers sold CDC Triffid seed and one or more farmers continues to grow it.
That would raise questions about how comprehensive the seed recall was. It was voluntary and at the time CDC Triffid was legal to grow and sell, Adolphe said.
The CSGA has a record of which farmers produced CDC Triffid seed. Now it's trying to reconcile the amount of seed produced with the volume crushed at Altona and Harrowby.
"Everybody is relying on 10-year memory or files they can or can't find," Adolphe said. "Trying to trace back one or two years ago is one thing but going back 10 years is another."
Old records probably won’t explain what's going on now, he added.
Farmers can pursue flax sales to North American buyers, Kubinec said. However, presumably those prices will be depressed too. In the meantime, she said farmers should keep samples of the flax they're harvesting for testing in the future if necessary.
It's not illegal to grow unregistered varieties. The catch is when delivered they automatically receive the lowest grade. However, it is illegal to sell an unregistered variety for seed.