The Day of the Triffid in Transgene Contamination

ISIS Report 23/09/09

Transgenic flax grown for several years in Canada has nevertheless contaminated probably the country’s entire flax seed stock; that’s why flax should never be used to produce transgenic industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals Prof. Joe Cummins

Transgene contamination of flax seed

Flax seed is used widely in the food industry, including bread, and as source of omega 3 fatty acids. On 10 September 2009, the European Union (EU) Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reported finding an unapproved genetically modified (GM) flax/linseed variety in cereal and bakery products in Germany. The GM flax variety, FP967 (CDC Triffid), is not authorized for food or feed in the EU; it has tolerance to soil residues of sulfonylurea-based herbicides, and was developed by the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. Canada supplies approximately 70 percent of the total flax/linseed in the EU annually. Because GM flax FP967 is not authorized in the European Union, there is zero tolerance for the variety. That means any raw material or flax/linseed derivative analyzed to be positive for FP967 is illegal and not marketable in the EU. The test for the genetic modification of Triffid flax was developed by Genetic ID Laboratories in USA and Europe [1].

The ‘Triffid’ is a highly venomous fictional plant species, the titular antagonist from John Wyndham's 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids. The University of Saskatchewan appears to have used that great novel as a model for its GM creation.

Triffid yanked off seed market in 2001

The discovery of Triffid gene contamination in Canadian flax exports is surprising because Triffid flax seed has not been openly produced in Canada since 2001. Triffid was deregulated over a decade ago in Canada for environmental release for feed in 1996 and for food in 1998. USA authorized the release of Triffid for food and feed in 1998, and for commercial growth in the environment in 1999 [2]. Triffid has been grown in the open fields in both Canada and US. But by early 2001, under pressure from Canadian flax growers anxious to protect their markets, Triffid was deregistered and removed from the market in Canada. By then, around 200 000 bushels of Triffid flax seed had been grown on farms across the prairies [3].

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