Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission

The Flax Industry

Rebooting Canada's Flax Industry

Over the past few years, the flax industry has experienced a significant drop in exports and acreage as a result of weather events and the detection in fall 2009 of the presence of CDC Triffid seed, a genetically modified (GM) variety, in shipments to the EU. The EU is a very GM-adverse market and will not allow imports of such products.

The industry, in partnership with AAFC, is working diligently to address these problems and in 2009, initiated a significant testing and monitoring protocol to remove GM Triffid from the seed supply in Canada. These efforts focus on grain and seed and have worked to reduce both the frequency and level of presence of Triffid. However, the level will not move to zero unless a zero source seed is used across the industry.

As of September 1, 2010, any flax entering the commercial grain handling system will be subjected to more rigorous testing for the presence of CDC Triffid than was previously required. For the list of approved labs for Triffid testing, as well as, laboratory submission forms is click here. Each of the labs has successfully completed proficiency testing conducted by the Canadian Grain Commission. Click here for instructions on taking a representative sample from trucks and bins.

The Flax Council, along with the University of Saskatchewan and SeCan, have developed new CDC flax varieties that were ready for the 2014 planting season. While there are no guarantees, the industry believes this is the best path to remove CDC Triffid from the Canadian system and start to rebuild Canada as the global leader in flax production and export.

Re-constituted Flaxseed now Available

Since 2009, the flax industry has been working diligently through stringent testing and monitoring protocols to remove Triffid, a genetically modified variety, from the flax seed supply in Canada. In the Spring of 2014, the industry introducced the reconstituted certified flax seed. The objective is to regain markets such as the European Union, which drastically reduced purchases of Canadian flax because European regulations do not allow imports of unapproved genetically modified products.

The University of Saskatchewan's Crop Development Centre, the Flax Council of Canada, Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, Manitoba Flax Growers, Canadian Seed Growers and SeCan have been working together to reconstitute the new Triffid-free flax seed and inform growers of the importance of 'rebooting' their industry.

In the fall of 2013, SeCan seed growers harvested re-constituted seed supplies of four varieties: CDC Bethune, CDC Sorrel, CDC Sanctuary and CDC Glas. CDC Glas is seen as a replacement for CDC Bethune. It offers improved standability and a 105% yield advantage in the black soil zone (103% average of CDC Bethune over all zones). CDC Sanctuary is viewed as a replacement for CDC Bethune in the brown soil zones, averaging 105% of CDC Bethune in the dryer areas of the Prairies.

To find Certified re-constituted flax seed, growers can consult the following lists:

    CDC Bethune (PDF)

    CDC Glas (PDF)

    CDC Sanctuary (PDF)

    CDC Sorrel (PDF) 

Check SeCan's website for a complete listing of all SeCan growers:

Frequently Asked Questions

Why was CDC Triffid developed?

CDC Triffid (FP967) was developed at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre. It was intended as a crop that could be cultivated the year after a triasulfuron or metsulfuron-methyl herbicide was used, as an alternative to continuous cropping of wheat and barley and to summer-fallowing. It was approved for environmental release in 1996 by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and for food use by Health Canada in 1998. At no time has there ever been any safety concerns with this variety. It was deregistered in 2001 by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency due to trade concerns by the Canadian flax industry. Certified seed of CDC Triffid (FP967) in production at the time was collected and crushed domestically.

What is the genetic modification in CDC Triffid? Is it a Roundup-Ready variety?

CDC Triffid was a transgenic sulfonylurea herbicide-resistant flax cultivar with agronomic features similar to NorLin. It was intended to provide a broadleaf cropping option to summer fallowing or continuous cropping to cereals in soils previously treated with residual sulfonylurea herbicides (such as metsulfuron methyl – Ally and Triasulfuron – Amber, Unity), especially for those with low moisture and high pH where they persist in soil for several years. CDC Triffid was not a Roundup Ready variety and hence reacts similar to other conventional flax cultivars when treated with Glyphosate.

What is the test being used to detect CDC Triffid?

Labs are using a construct-specific test, which detects the presence of genetically-modified materials. The genetically-modified material found in CDC Triffid is not found in other plants, so this is an accurate method of identifying CDC Triffid in samples. The National Research Council’s Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC/PBI) and DNA Landmarks Research continue to work on an event-specific test, which would identify the exact sequence for CDC Triffid.

How did Triffid get into the system after being de-registered in 2001? Wasn’t it supposed to have been destroyed?

We still don’t know how Triffid got into the system. Yes, it was supposed to have been destroyed. We’re still trying to determine what happened.

What, if anything, is being done to identify the exporters or growers who did not destroy their Triffid inventory in 2001? What will happen to them?

At the time, Triffid was a seed company licensed variety and was multiplied by Select seed growers. All growers are now being asked to have their seed tested. It is not illegal to grow Triffid, even though it is deregistered, but it cannot be sold for seed. The grain industry and growers will work together to direct those supplies to non-European markets (ie, markets that are not sensitive to genetically modified materials).

How long will growers need to continue testing their flaxseed for CDC Triffid?

This depends on how quickly the Canadian flax supply is cleared of Triffid. It could be between 1 and 5 years.

What will happen to any Triffid flax that is found?

Triffid seed will be identified, segregated and moved to markets that are not sensitive to genetically modified materials.

How do I take a representative sample?

See this link for the Canadian Grain Commission's guidelines on preparing representative samples.

Why are you now recommending certified seed?

Initially, it was thought that a widespread adoption of certified seed was the best way to reduce the presence of Triffid in the crop. However, producers did not have confidence in the certified seed supply due to the discovery of Triffid in the pedigreed and breeder seed of CDC varieties and in the pedigree seed of other varieties.

To ensure a Triffid-free seed supply and to instill greater confidence, CDC has re-constituted their varieties. Other varieties never had detections in their breeder seed. Pedigreed seed has been testing 100 per cent negative.

Farm-saved seed, although likely not planted if it tests positive, still has 3 per cent of the production tests testing positive. We can’t get to zero without starting with zero.

Shipments are still going to European crushers, albeit at a much-reduced volume due to the risk and cost of the current testing and sampling protocol. All of these shipments have tested negative.

In order to achieve a relaxation of the protocol, we need to get the level of Triffid down even further to give the regulators the confidence to make those changes. The only way to achieve this is through a rejuvenation of the seed supply by a widespread adoption of certified seed and the clearing out of all pre-2013 seed.

How much is this new certified seed going to cost?

It will be similar to the current cost of other certified seed.

With this new program, will testing still be necessary? If so, how much longer will we need to test?

Testing will likely still be necessary, but this program will go a long way to increase confidence in the supply of Canadian flax seed. How much longer will depend on our test results and the regulatory environment in our destination markets. Without a program like this, many international markets might not be accessible to Canadian flax exports.

If everyone clears out their bins of flaxseed this year, won’t that affect prices?

We have seen two to three years of historically low carryover stocks of flax; current supplies are at their lowest point in several years. The current market indicates that there is sufficient demand to absorb these flax stocks without significantly affecting prices. We suggest that starting today, producers market their oldest production first and segregate flax grown using new certified seed from production of previous years. In this way, we will have two years to clear the system of old inventory.

Is all certified seed free of Triffid, or only these new re-constituted varieties of seed?

Certified seed is as close as we can get to Triffid free seed because it is rigorously tested, produced and handled in a secure environment. It has not tested positive for two years. The focus in 2013 is to prepare for 2014 and beyond.

The four varieties that have been part of the re-constituted seed program are CDC Bethune-14, CDC Sorrel-14 and new products CDC Sanctuary and CDC Glas. Strict protocols were followed in the production of this seed specifically so that planting seed will be free of Triffid when it becomes available in 2014. CDC Glas and Sanctuary will be the only CDC varieties that will be Triffid free for planting in 2013. Certified AAFC varieties have been tested and found to be free of Triffid. You should be able to purchase certified AAFC and the above CDC varieties if you purchase certified seed for planting in 2014.

Isn’t this just a way to force producers into using certified seed?

Producers need to make their 2013 decisions with the knowledge that the seed industry, Secan, CDC, SFDC, MFGA and FCC along with the federal and provincial governments are providing the added assurance that CDC varieties have been re-constituted and will be available in the spring of 2014.

The objective of this program is to be able to assure our customers that there is no risk of Triffid in Canadian flaxseed stocks. The only way to do that is to start with a Triffid-free source of planting seed, a source that has been obtained by following a set of precise protocols.

So are you saying that growers should also use certified seed this year, before the new re-constituted seed becomes available in 2014?

The Flax Council of Canada has always recommended certified seed as the most reliable and highest quality source of planting seed for flax growers. That hasn’t changed. However, using certified seed in the next two years will be even more important than in other years because of the need to ‘start from zero’ with our planting seed in order to restore access to markets and confidence in the Canadian flax supply.

This program will refresh our seed supply which is good agronomic practice in any case. It will also aid in our market access efforts, provide the best possible chance of reducing the level of Triffid below the level of detection and will reduce the need for testing in the future.

What if I want to use farm-saved seed for planting this year?

If you use farm-saved seed this year, make sure that it has been tested and found negative for the presence of Triffid. We do, however, strongly encourage the use of certified seed in 2014.

Continue to rigorously test your farm-saved seed. Move any old seed stocks to market as soon as the market allows and start by shipping your old production first. Segregate your new production.

Will there be enough certified seed available for planting in 2014?

As long as stock seed is planted in the spring of 2013, SeCan can still have enough certified seed to plant over one million acres of flax with re-constituted breeder seed. This is the reason for the re-launch of CDC varieties in 2014.

Book your seed orders early. It is important for producers to communicate their anticipated certified seed requirements to their seed dealers so a sufficient amount of pedigreed seed is available.

What is the incentive for growers to comply with this program?

For one, we want to keep flax as a viable crop in farmers’ crop rotations. Also, revitalizing the seed supply is a good agronomic practise. Third, this is the only way for us to restore access to the European markets, which has traditionally been a high-value market for Canadian flax. If we do this right, we can gain these customers back and eventually discontinue the need for Triffid testing.

What indications do we have from our European and other customers in regulatory jurisdictions that are sensitive to GM products that this process (using certified seed) will restore access to those markets?

The global demand for flax is growing. Our customers value their relationship with Canadian farmers as reliable suppliers of quality flaxseed. Customers in Europe wish to renew that same relationship which they enjoyed prior to the discovery of CDC Triffid in the Canadian flax crop. Regulations regarding a low-level presence of GMO events that have not been approved in the EU do not allow open market access to Canadian flax.

In order to restore that relationship, we need to reduce the level of Triffid to a point where exporters and importers have confidence that Canadian flaxseed shipments to the EU will be free of CDC Triffid without the need for the current rigid and costly sampling and testing protocols that we currently have in place. Only then will Canadian flax producers be placed on a level playing field with producers in other flax-exporting nations. Our efforts to date to reduce the presence of CDC Triffid in the flax crop and the further reductions anticipated under the certified seed program will move us much closer to that goal.

Only when the current efforts of our federal government achieve a favourable low-level presence policy for Canadian flaxseed in Europe will the export environment return to the pre-Triffid situation.

What can flax growers do to help this program work?

Flax producers need to replace their existing planting seed stocks for the 2014 season so that all traces of Triffid can be flushed from the seed supply. During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, flax producers are asked to deliver all previous flax planting seed stocks, especially deregistered varieties to the commercial system to minimize the chance of cross contamination of new flax supplies with old inventory. It is critical to draw out all remnant supplies from previous flax production years that may or may not have been tested for Triffid. Even a small lot of a deregistered variety entering the system in 2015 or beyond could jeopardize all our efforts in this process.

It is important for flax growers to spread the word to other producers—even if they haven’t grown flax for years—about how important it is to follow the guidelines.

Where is the best place to get more information about this program?

The Flax Council of Canada is the lead organization on this issue.