Certified seed producers worry about GM liability

Canadian seed growers are becoming nervous about selling certified flax seed to commercial flax growers.

Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association, says some pedigreed seed growers are concerned about potential liabilities that could stem from selling certified flax seed that tests negative for traces of genetically modified material at the lab but produces a crop that tests positive at the elevator.

In an effort to rid Canadian flax supplies of GM contaminated material, industry officials have implemented a program that requires testing all stocks of certified flax seed.

As well, flax growers who hope to sell new crop flax into the European marketplace will be required to use certified seed on all crops produced in 2010.

Adolphe said the measures will help restore access to European flax exports, but they are causing anxiety among farmers and pedigreed seed growers.

A few seed producers have indicated they may not sell flax seed this year, even if their inventories test negative for GM material.

“Seed growers are getting concerned about the near zero tolerance and they’re concerned about potential liability,” Adolphe said.

“The more you test, the greater the probability you’re going to find a positive and some seed growers are saying … the buck stops here.”

Testing protocols for certified seed require seed growers to submit a representative two kilogram sample from each seed lot, regardless of its size.

From that two kg sample, four subsamples, each containing about 60 grams of flax or approximately 10,000 seeds, are tested for the presence of genetic material from CDC Triffid, a GM variety that officials thought had been removed from the system years ago.

Testing would detect GM contamination to one part in 40,000, but it would not provide an ironclad guarantee that the entire seed lot is free of GM material.

“The only thing that test tells you is what’s in those 40,000 seeds,” Adolphe said. “It doesn’t tell you what’s in a 20 tonne seed lot.”

Adolphe acknowledged that mandatory use of certified seed is not sitting well with some producers, but added the measures will help reopen European flax markets more quickly.

“If there is an opportunity through tracing back the pedigree to cleanse the system or purge the seed system of GM flax, then I think this is the best opportunity.”

Not all producers share that view.

Last week, during an industry sponsored conference call, several producers argued the mandatory use of certified seed is an unnecessary expense that offers no guarantee to the producer.

They also argued that another measure requiring that all commercial flax grown in 2010 be tested for GM contamination at the point of delivery negates the need to use certified seed. Other producers have also raised concerns about the disclosure of test results from certified seed.

Adolphe said pedigreed seed lots that test positive for GM material will be taken out of the pedigreed seed system and sold into commercial flax markets.

Seed growers who submit GM-positive samples will be under no obligation to share test results, he added. Instead, they will have the option of sharing positive test results, on a confidential basis, with the Flax Council of Canada.

That information will be stored in a restricted database, with access limited to flax council and CSGA officials and other authorized parties.

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