Canada’s flaxseed industry reports it has made progress eliminating traces of genetically-modified Triffid seed from the country’s supply, but it will still take more time before the situation resolves itself completely.
Traces of Triffid, a genetically modified flaxseed variety developed in Canada but never commercially produced, were found in Canadian shipments to Europe in 2009, effectively shutting the door to what had been the largest market for Canadian exports.
In the aftermath of the original discovery, testing protocols were put in place in an effort to eliminate Triffid from Canada’s flaxseed crop and reopen export markets.
“We’re making good progress,” said Will Hill, president of the Flax Council of Canada, noting that over the past two years the amount of positive Triffid tests has declined, while the intensity of the positive samples has also dropped.
Currently, about four per cent of samples show traces of Triffid, which compares with 10 per cent when testing first began with the 2009-10 crop and seven per cent in 2010-11, said Hill.
Over the past two years Canadian flaxseed exports to the industrial market in Europe have resumed, although they are not yet at the levels seen prior to Triffid, said Hill. On the food side, there is still very little, if any, Canadian flaxseed moving to Europe as the risk is still too high, he said.
In order to see the food market reopen in Europe, the percentage of samples testing positive for Triffid will need to decline further still or changes to the protocol itself will need to be made, said Hill.
At present, there is a 0.01 per cent allowance for Triffid, but if that allowance were 0.1 per cent, Hill estimated there wouldn’t be any samples testing positive at all.
Canadian farmers grew 378,500 tonnes of flaxseed in 2011-12, according to the latest production report from Statistics Canada. That compares with the 930,000 tonnes grown in 2009-10 prior to the Triffid issue.
The lower production over the past two years has caused stocks to be drawn down, making Canada’s industry less reliant on European exports to clear the crop, said Hill. In addition to demand from the U.S., he said, China had also been a good customer, although China has yet to show steady demand.
While Eastern Europe has been picking up the slack meeting the demand into Europe, Hill said there was room for improvement in Canadian acres. Canadian farmers seeded fewer than 700,000 acres of flaxseed in 2011, but some of the lost acres were due to flooding in the spring.
While flaxseed prices aren’t as high as they would have been in the past, given the smaller production, Hill said the crop was still profitable. “We need a more normal spring to see where farmers are at,” he said.
FOB farm bids as high as $14.50 per bushel can currently be found for flaxseed in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan, according to the latest Prairie Ag Hotwire data.