Interest in non-GM canola oil growing

Lack of non-GM seed | If producers grow non-GM canola, they shouldn’t have a problem finding a buyer, say processors

The market for non-genetically modified canola oil continues to grow despite the fact that all canola oil is inherently non-GM.


Joel Horn, president of Legumex Walker, receives calls daily from food industry customers clamoring for non-GM oil.


“It’s very real demand. It’s more and more and it’s in larger and larger quantities,” he said during a recent interview following the announcement of the company’s latest quarterly results.


Legumex Walker operates a canola crushing facility in Warden, Washington, capable of producing 136,000 tonnes of oil annually.


Seven percent of the canola the company processed in April was from non-GM seed. Horn was unwilling to provide an update on processing volumes for the second quarter because competitors are becoming increasingly interested in the product.


But Horn is excited about the long-term potential for the specialty oil.


“We’d like to be all either high oleic or non-GMO if we could,” Horn told investment analysts during a conference call.


“We’d like to grow enough that we could be all specialty because it’s so successful for us.”


The only thing holding the company back is a lack of non-GM seed.


“The main message is to the growers. We can sell everything that we can buy,” said Horn.


Roger Foster, director of business development and sales with Pleasant Valley Oil Mills, is also interested in seed supply.


Ninety-six percent of the canola grown in Canada in 2013 was genetically modified, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.


However, after a cursory investigation, Foster has determined there appears to be an ample supply of non-GM canola for the needs of the small cold pressed crushing plant owned and operated by the Pleasant Valley Hutterite Colony in Clive, Alta.


The facility can produce 4,500 tonnes of cold pressed canola oil a year, which would require about 13,500 tonnes of seed. 


The plant has been processing oil and meal for the animal feed market, but it is about to receive Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification, paving the way to sell oil to bakeries and manufacturers of margarines and salad dressings. One client has inquired about non-GM oil. 


Foster said the irony is that the genetic modification is contained in the protein of the seed, which ends up in the meal and not the oil. That means all canola oil is non-GM.


“It really is foolishness,” said Foster.


But consumers seem to want their non-GM oil to come from non-GM seed and processors are willing to oblige.


Horn was caught off guard when asked how Legumex Walker’s non-GM oil is any more non-GM than other oils on the market.


“That one I can’t answer for you,” he said.


Later he was able to put the difference into words.


“We’re providing the market what they want, which is canola oil and canola meal that comes from a non-GMO verified seed.”


Legumex is one of two major crush facilities in North America to receive Non-GMO Project verification of its oil and meal. 


The other is the Viterra plant in Ste. Agathe, Man.


Incoming seed is tested in a lab, segregated and processed in a separate batch. Much of the seed comes from winter canola grown in the Pacific Northwest of the United States because winter varieties are largely non-GM. 


But the company is also sourcing seed from Western Canada. It can afford to truck in supplies from far afield because food companies are paying handsome premiums for the product.


Whole Foods Market recently announced that by 2018 all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labelled to indicate whether they contain genetically modified ingredients.


The company bills itself as the world’s leader in natural and organic foods, with over 340 grocery stores across North America and the United Kingdom.


Horn wouldn’t reveal what kind of premiums growers receive for delivering non-GM canola but Foster said the industry standard is about $15 per tonne.


Pleasant Valley is willing to pay more.


“We’re looking at double that and possibly even higher,” said Foster.


Pleasant Valley could easily quadruple the size of its crush facilities if the demand was there from either the non-GM or GM side of the business. 


Horn hopes to see a reversal in the 18-year-trend toward GM canola in coming years because there currently isn’t enough non-GM seed to meet the demand.


“We think the grower will make more than enough money that they’re going to want to grow this, so we’re feeling good about it,” he said.

  • Kimbull McAndrew

    Although the GMO gene may not appear in the oil product many consumers including me are very concerned about ingesting trace residues of Roundup and it’s various resultant by-products that occur during processing of the oil. After all, GMO canola is invariably treated with Roundup. Monsanto has spent millions trying to prove that glyphosphate is safe, but glyphosphate is a very small percentage of the chemical soup that makes up Roundup.