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Illegal GM Flax in 10 EU Countries? – FSA still fails to act in UK

Immediate release (23 Sep 2009)

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

The UK Food Standards Agency claims that there are “no grounds for issuing a Food Alert” [1] in response the EU Rapid Action Alert have been challenged by GM Freeze, who have written again to the FSA demanding answers to several key questions. [2] The GMO in question was deregistered in 2001 by Canadian authorities and never commercialised under pressure from Canadian flax growers concerned about exactly this sort of contamination.

The EU issued the first alert on 8 September, and has issued four further alerts on new incidents [3], after flax/linseed grain and seed stock imported from Canada was discovered to be contaminated with a GMO illegal both here and in Canada. [4] EU alerts state that parts of contaminated shipments may now have been distributed to 11 EU countries. [5]

GM Freeze believes that in order to determine the grounds for issuing an alert in the UK, the FSA must give clear answers to the following questions:

  1. Have all UK imports from Canada been monitored for GM presence? If so, what were the results?
  2. What are the origins of grain imports received from other EU states?
  3. Have these imports been monitored for GM?
  4. Are EU grown crops produced using seed from Canada?
  5. Have seed imports into the EU been monitored for GM?
  6. Where is flax grown in the UK and what are the main uses?
  7. Has UK grown flax been monitored for GM presence in the last two years?

Previous GM contamination incidents involving US rice and maize have led to the FSA being severely criticised for their failure to act quickly and issue appropriate Food Alerts. [3]

GM Freeze has previously called on the FSA to carrying out risk assessments [3] on potential GM contamination in imports, which would include mapping the pattern of imports and knowing the end products likely to be affected. If they had done this in advance, the FSA would have been in a position to know where to monitor for contamination and to quickly withdraw products from the market.

Defra have not responded to GM Freeze’s letter of 14 September that asked for details of monitoring of GM presence in imported seed.

Commenting Eve Mitchell of GM Freeze said:

The FSA is not in a position to say that there are ‘no grounds for issuing a food alert’ before answering some very basic questions. We urgently need those answers and a full analysis to be published in order to fully understand the risks to both flax imports and the movement of flax products and seeds in the UK and EU.

If the FSA had prepared in advance and fully understood the market for flax products and seed, it would not have taken nearly three weeks to decide if testing is required, and action could have been taken by now to recall products potentially contaminated with this illegal GMO.

There seems to be no sign of any action from the FSA, which is echoes their past handling of GM contamination incidents. Instead the FSA appear to be waiting for someone else to tell them where the GM flax is before they will act. This is very disappointing as the FSA is supposed to promote and protect consumer safety.


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

[1] Letter from FSA to GM Freeze dated 18 September 2009.

[2] GM Freeze press release,”Illegal GM contaminates flax – UK fails to respond”, 14 September 2009 (see here).

[3] See

[4] The UK imported over 900 tons of linseed directly from Canada in 2008, and also imports linseed from other EU states (eg, The Netherlands, Belgium and Eire). The origins of these imports is not clear, as crops imported from outside the EU are often trans-shipped within the EU but recorded as imports from the EU country. The UK’s total import of flax/linseed was 10,308 tons in 2008. Flax is grown in the UK on a small area, and seed imports in 2008 came from The Netherlands (14 tons).

[5] Countries named by the EU alerts are Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland, Romania, Portugal, Hungary, Austria. (see search on FP967)

[6] GM contamination – imports of food and feed at risk – measures needed to reduce the risk (see here to download).