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EU Imports of Canadian Flax Resumed – Legality questioned GM flax contamination persists two years on

Immediate release (17 Oct 2011)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Contamination of Canadian flax seed with the untested GM flax CDC Triffid is still being detected, yet industrial flax is again being imported into the EU. [1] The GM flax is not authorised for import anywhere in the world [2], and GM Freeze wrote today to Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman seeking assurances that the UK is not receiving tainted supplies.

CDC Triffid was originally grown on a small scale in Canada in 2001 but subsequently banned, and stocks of seeds were supposed to have been destroyed. Yet two years on testing of flax seed in Canada reports 1 in 25 samples still contain traces of the herbicide tolerance gene CDC Triffid [1], compared to 10% in 2009 and 7% in 2010. Food exports are still suspended. [3]

The GM trait was first detected in flax food products in the EU in 2009, leading to a cessation in exports from Canada. In all contamination of food was detected in at least 36 counties. The source of the original contamination has never been satisfactorily explained. Canadian flax growers and seed industry have borne the costs of the clean up.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

We are seeking assurances from Ministers that none of the industrial flax being imported from Canada is illegally contaminated with Triffid. EU law is clear: there is no authorisation to import GM flax for any use whatsoever.

This contamination incident shows it is easy to contaminate seed with GM traits, and incredibly hard to remove it once it is there. This should be a lesson to the EU and UK as they grapple with the concept of the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and seeds.

The simple message from Canada is that mechanisms to separate out GM can break down, and as there are no long-term benefits from GM crops at present, it would be wise to avoid them altogether and concentrate on building GM-free markets in line with consumer demand.



[1] See Farm Business Communications press release “Flax industry sees ‘good progress’ against Triffid”, 13 October 2011.

[2] See GM Freeze briefing GM Flax Contamination from Canada

[3] No complete food/feed safety dossier on Triffid was available at the time of the incident, so a full risk assessment could not be carried out.