Friday, January 21, 2011

Flax Testing Urged

Flax council urges GM testing
By Cassandra Kyle
The StarPhoenix
January 11, 2011

Get it tested — that’s the message the country’s national flax association is trying to get out to producers about seed this year as concerns linger over genetically modified (GM) traits.

“It’s the best way we have in the short term of managing the situation the best we can,” said Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada.

“We’re not saying this is going to cure the problem, but it will at least allow us a little bit (of a reprieve) until there’s a more practical solution.”

Since the European Union (EU) found small amounts of GM material contaminating samples taken from Canadian flax shipments in September 2009, little has changed for the better for flax producers in Canada, Hall said Monday at Crop Production Week in Saskatoon.

Triffid — the GM flax variety that caused the initial concern overseas — remains unapproved by the EU, which has zero tolerance for positive GM tests. Developed in Saskatoon, Triffid was approved for human and animal consumption, but was never commercialized and was never approved in Europe.

While changes are slow in coming, progress is being made on several fronts, including increasing GM tolerance to 0.1 per cent from the current 0.01 per cent. It’s a sign, said Hall, that the issue is being taken seriously by the EU.

“That’s encouraging in that it shows they’re at least attempting to come to grips,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of political will to change this.”

The short-term measure of asking farmers to test the seed they hope to plant this spring should help to drop the occurrence of Triffid in flax shipments, Hall said. The long-term solution of convincing the EU to allow the low-level presence of GM in tests is in the works, “but we don’t know how long that’s going to take,” he said.

“It is moving — not nearly as rapidly as we’d like to see — but at least it is moving,” he said.

About nine per cent of Canadian flax tests positive for Triffid, or about one in every 40,000 seeds, Hall said.

The good news is that market prices for flax — which contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fibre — are on the rise and currently trading at about $15 to $16 per bushel.

After a wet 2010 growing season which saw about 440,000 tonnes of flax harvested in Canada, Hall said a harvest of 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes in 2011 would be a realistic goal.

Saskatchewan produces about 80 per cent of Canada’s flax.

[Rest of article is meteorological and planting advice.]

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