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TITLE:  Flax farmers fear EU wrath: GMO samples could scare away
        biggest consumer group
SOURCE: The Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Canada, by Jason Warick
        edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   July 19, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Flax farmers fear EU wrath: GMO samples could scare away biggest 
consumer group

Chris Hale, board chair of the Saskatchewan Flax Development 
Commission, was cited as saying that European buyers could shut the 
door on Canadian flax imports if a top University of Saskatchewan 
crop scientist doesnÕt stop distributing samples of genetically 
modified flax seed, leaving hundreds of farmers without a place to 
sell their product, as roughly 60 per cent of all Canadian flax is 
shipped to Europe, adding that the European flax market "is extremely 
important to us. If this gets back to Europe, it could literally kill 
our market."

But University of Saskatchewan professor and senior research 
scientist Alan McHughen was cited as saying the concerns are not 
valid, as the samples are small and sterile. The story says that the 
commission, the Flax Council of Canada and industry officials decided 
a few years ago to halt commercial growing of GM flax in Canada, as 
European consumers were beginning to speak out against the 
technology. All of the GM flax seed destined for commercial use was 
disposed of, including the Triffid variety created by McHughen.

Since then, Canadian growers have had no problems selling flax in 
Europe. But the commission recently learned McHughen was distributing 
samples of the Triffid flax, even though he had been asked to stop 
doing so earlier this year by the commission and by his own boss, U 
of S Crop Development Centre head Rick Holm.

The commission, a body elected by the provinceÕs flax farmers, had 
sent a letter to Holm asking that McHughen stop giving out the GM 
flax. The Triffid samples could create doubts about the purity of 
Canadian flax, even though it wasnÕt for commercial use, they said. 
Hale, who farms at Rouleau, was quoted as saying, "Perception and 
reality are the same in some peopleÕs minds. For various reasons, 
itÕs become a strong emotional issue."

Holm assured them he would talk to McHughen, according to commission 
member Terry Boehm. That hasnÕt stopped McHughen, who said he will 
continue to give out the samples. Holm did not return requests for an 
interview.

Boehm was quoted as saying "HeÕs acting with complete disinterest to 
producers. It would absolutely decimate our flax market." The flax 
commission gives the crop centre $45,000 annually for research 
projects, raised through a three cent per bushel tax on flax sales. 
Boehm and fellow commission member Ron Gilmour of Craik said it 
should withhold $45,000 as long as McHughen promotes GM flax.

Hale said he and the national flax council president met with Holm 
this week and are pressing to get Triffid de-registered. The U of S 
owns the Triffid variety, and Holm promised to check into it, Hale 
said.

McHughen was cited as saying that European buyers donÕt care if heÕs 
giving out small samples of sterile GM flax, adding, "That hazard (of 
European markets closing because of the samples) is pretty close to 
zero. We are an educational institution. I am a public scientist. 
WhatÕs the point of de-registering it if itÕs not being grown 
commercially?"

The story says that Triffid flax grows in certain types of soil that 
could not normally support other varieties, and it requires less 
pesticide. McHughen said the whole situation "is a bit frustrating. 
IÕve spent my career dedicated to flax farmers." Saskatchewan is one 
of the worldÕs leading flax producers, with roughly 1.5 million acres 
planted annually. 




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