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7-Business: Canadian GE researcher puts flax markets at risk

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Sean Pratt
DATE:   November 1, 2001

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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.

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 

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.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GE flax not welcomed by farmers
SOURCE: The StarPhoenix, Canada
        edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   November 8, 2001

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GE flax not welcomed by farmers

Doug Bone of Elstow, Sask., writes that genetically engineered flax for the 
pharmaceutical or plastics industries is being proposed as a possible high-
value crop by University of Saskatchewan professor Alan McHughen in the 
Nov. 1 Western Producer. According to the story, McHughen says using flax, 
rather than a plant such as canola, for pharmaceutical production is safer. 
He claims that if GE pharmaceutical flax escapes into commercial flax 
stocks it would not be as big a problem because, unlike canola, flax is 
mostly used for industrial, rather than food products.

Bone says that McHughen should be aware that certified organic flax is 
already a high-value crop. At double to triple the price of conventional 
flax, and with no company technology access fees to pay, organic flax is 
being grown profitably for the food and health markets by many organic 
farmers. Milled organic flax seed and cold-pressed organic flax oil are 
both value-added products being produced here in Saskatchewan for global 
markets by one of the largest companies in the business, Bioriginal Food 
and Science Corporation.

A growing number of consumers are recognizing the health benefits of flax's 
fibre, lignan and omega-3 fatty acid content. This demand is being met by 
conventional, as well as organic, production. Organic farmers believe 
consumers have the right to choose food free of GE contamination and 
farmers have the right to grow these crops for their customers.

An organic umbrella organization, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate 
(SOD), is currently raising funds for possible legal action to block the 
introduction of genetically engineered wheat and to seek compensation for 
damages caused by GE canola. This should serve notice that certified 
organic growers will not allow their traditional ability to supply the 
market to be threatened by possible contamination with genetically 
engineered flax.


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