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Illegal GM Contaminates Flax – UK Fails to Respond

Immediate release (14 Sep 2009)

Calls to Eve Mitchell on 01381 610 740 or to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

GM Freeze has written to the Food Standards Agency and Food and Environment Minister Hilary Benn at the Department for Food and Rural Affairs asking for urgent clarification as to why the UK Government and FSA have failed to respond to a major contamination of Canadian flax exports with the unauthorised, experimental GM herbicide tolerant variety “Triffid” reported last week. [1]

Flax seed, or linseed, is used widely in the food industry, including in bread and as source of omega 3 fatty acids. It is as yet unknown if UK products are affected. GM Freeze has asked the FSA why it has not yet issued a food alert to prevent or find and remove remove any contaminated products reaching the market either via imports or from UK crops grown from contaminated seed. So far one German company has found the illegal flax in its products [2], which was approved for experimental use only in Canada and the USA in the 1990s.

Last year, the UK imported over 900 tons of flax for consumption from Canada (9% of total imports). [3] Most of the rest came from the EU. GM Freeze has asked the FSA to make sure none of the flax originated in Canada and was then been trans-shipped to the UK from other EU ports, such as Rotterdam or Belgium ports. The German supplies found in the food chain are reported to have come to Germany via Belgium. [4] GM Freeze is seeking assurances that the UK Government and FSA are doing everything they can to ensure that no unauthorised material enters or remains in the food chain here.

Flax/linseed is also produced in the EU, and crops contaminated with Triffid have reportedly been found growing in Germany. In 2008 the UK imported 14 tons of flax seed [3] from The Netherlands. GM Freeze has asked Defra to explain what steps they are taking to identify the origins of seed grown in the UK and to identify and destroy any contaminated crops and seeds.

The most recent contamination incident in the UK occurred in 2008 when oilseed rape crops grown in Scotland and Somerset were found to contaminated with an unauthorised GM trait developed by Monsanto. [5] Defra have refused to reveal the precise location of the Sonmerset contamination site.

Eve Mitchell of GM Freeze said:

It is astonishing after an official EU food recall, and over a week after traders signalled a problem [6], the UK Government has failed to respond in any way to this potentially serious incident of illegal GM contamination. We need to know the full extent and causes of this contamination as soon as possible so that there can be effective action taken to remove contaminated food, feed and seed.

This incident highlights how containing GM material is proving impossible and that any notion of GM ‘coexistence’ is nonsense. GM is a technology that cannot be contained, yet those who produce and sell it still refuse to accept any liability for the damage done by their products. UK consumers need and want a safe, GM-free food supply.

Defra and the FSA need to deal with the problem quickly and transparently. We do not want to see a repeat of the secrecy around the location of the 2008 GM contamination of English oilseed rape.


Calls to Eve Mitchell on 01381 610 740 or to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

[1] See EU food recall Notification 2009.1171 issued on 8 September.

[2] CBAN press release, “Illegal GM Flax Contaminates Canadian Exports”, 10 September 2009. See

[3] UK trade statistics.

[4] Country Guide (Canada), Deregistered Canadian GM Flax Pops Up in Europe, 10 September 2009. See

[5] The UK Government is still refusing to release the location of an oilseed rape crop contaminated with GM in Somerset in 2008. GM Freeze has complained officially to the Information Commissioner regarding the delay in concluding an “internal review” at Defra blamed for this failure. Similar incidents in Scotland have been met with immediate and effective action.

[6] Alberta Farmer, “Prairie flax bids fall over Europe’s GMO concerns”, 4 September 2009. See