Video: Industry praises flax growers for reducing Triffid from system

The Flax Council of Canada says growers have made tremendous strides in ridding the system of an unwanted genetically modified variety.

“We’ve come a long way,” said council president Don Kerr.

“We’re still seeing the odd positive test, but the numbers are reduced considerably.”

The industry has found 20 positive Triffid tests out of 2,000 harvest samples so far this year, which is down from 77 positives out of 3,300 samples in 2013.

It equates to a one percent rate of Triffid infection, compared to a high of 10 percent in 2009-10, when the CDC Triffid variety was discovered in Canadian flax shipments.

Triffid is an approved, registered variety that was never commercially released, but somehow made its way into the Canadian system.

The council is contacting growers whose samples tested positive to make sure they understand how the stewardship program works and why it is in place.

Kerr said growers have mainly done a good job of adhering to protocols and the farm stewardship program.

He estimated that 35 percent of this year’s 1.57 million flax acres were planted with Triffid-free reconstituted seed.

The reconstituted seed was made from original breeder seed from the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, which predated the Triffid crisis. It was multiplied in GM-free New Zealand.

“There wasn’t enough to distribute to all the producers (this) year,” said Kerr.

Growers who did not use reconstituted seed in 2014 are encouraged to do so next year. There will be more seed supply, but it is unlikely it will be adequate to cover all the anticipated acres.

Triffid contamination remains a threat as long as farmers continue using farm saved seed from previous generations of stock seed.

Producers are encouraged to continue testing harvested and planting seed for Triffid contamination. Federal government funding that paid half of the cost of those tests ran out Feb. 28.

“These (testing) protocols and this stewardship program at the farm level are going to continue, probably until such time as we see zero (positive results) right across the board,” said Kerr. “Then we’ll be able to say that we’ve got it beat.”

He said it is important to completely rid the system of Triffid because important markets such as Germany have zero tolerance for the GM crop.

Sales to Western Europe have rebounded from post-Triffid lows, but they are still a far cry from what they used to be.

The region bought 445,848 tonnes of Canadian flax in 2008, but that plummeted to as low as 41,690 tonnes in 2012 following the Triffid incident.

Canada shipped 107,256 tonnes of flax to Western Europe during the first nine months of this year, but Germany remained closed.

Japan is another sensitive customer. There is a small export program to Japan, but nothing like what it could have been.

“Prior to the Triffid episode, Japan was gearing up to really increase their imports of flaxseed,” said Kerr.“The potential in Japan is fairly large.”

He hopes sensitive markets will open up once the reconstituted seed is more widely grown and no harvested samples test positive for Triffid.

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