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2-Plants: Canadian GE flax researcher shows "clear misunderstanding" of flax markets



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TITLE:  Flax growers reject GM proposal
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Sean Pratt
        http://www.producer.com/articles/20011101/news/20011101news15.html
DATE:   November 1, 2001

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


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  "McHughen said a line of flax that could produce plastics or drugs would
  be a high-value crop. Manufacturers would pay big money for biodegradable
  plastic or pharmaceuticals that could be produced without having to
  harvest plants from South America's Amazon Basin.
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Flax growers reject GM proposal

Imagine the hullabaloo if the genetically modified canola that has cropped 
up in conventional fields in recent years was a variety designed to make 
plastics or pharmaceuticals. That's a scenario one GM expert is trying to 
prevent. University of Saskatchewan professor Alan McHughen wants research 
into GM crops that produce high-value industrial products shifted from 
canola to another oilseed. "I'd like to encourage more people to look at 
flax as the host for some of these things," said McHughen, who has written 
a book about the potential and hazards of GM food.

He said flax is a better fit for these kinds of applications because it is 
already primarily used for industrial purposes rather than human 
consumption. "One could envisage all sorts of damage being wrought if by 
mistake a genetically engineered pharmaceutical-producing canola seed got 
into the regular oilseed type canola." But it wouldn't be as big a problem, 
he added, if flaxseed genetically modified to be made into plastic or drugs 
was mistakenly introduced into commercial flax lines. Instead of landing on 
someone's dinner plate, it would end up in a can of paint or a sheet of 
linoleum.

Chris Hale, president of Flax Growers Western Canada, said that line of 
thinking shows a "clear misunderstanding" of flax markets. He said Europe, 
which is "far and away" the biggest importer of Canadian flax, requires an 
assurance from the Canadian Grain Commission that no GM flax is grown here. 
Hale said flax exported to Europe is used for industrial purposes, but the 
residue is fed to livestock. "If you don't think Europeans are super 
sensitive about what they're feeding their livestock, I guess a little more 
research needs to be done."

The flax industry has fought the introduction of GM crops. It managed to 
get CDC Triffid, a chemical-resistant variety developed by McHughen, banned 
from commercial production. They don't want to see more research on GM flax 
in the near future. "We would not support and very likely actively resist 
or lobby against that sort of work being done in the short term," Hale said.

McHughen said a line of flax that could produce plastics or drugs would be 
a high-value crop. Manufacturers would pay big money for biodegradable 
plastic or pharmaceuticals that could be produced without having to harvest 
plants from South America's Amazon Basin. One of the reasons he is 
convinced that flax is a better candidate than canola for this type of 
research is that pollen drift isn't a problem with flax. "It doesn't have 
that outcrossing problem, so you have a much greater degree of confidence 
that when you grow the specialty crop in a particular area, it's going to 
stay there." Perhaps more importantly, introducing a new kind of flax to be 
used for industrial purposes doesn't take a food crop out of production. 
The same can't be said for canola, he said.



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