Camille D. Ryan and Stuart J. Smyth
University of Saskatchewan

Triffid is the name given to a genetically modified (GM) variety of flaxseed that was developed in the late 1980s at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre. The variety was designed to thrive in soil containing residues from sulfonylureatype herbicides and offered greater weed control options to flax growers. In 1998, Triffid received Canadian and American feed and food regulatory approvals and entered a seed multiplication program. The following year, Europe threatened to stop importing Canadian flax should GM flax enter into commercial production. By April 2001, Triffid was deregistered and all remaining seed was supposedly destroyed. However, in late 2009, Triffid flax was unexpectedly detected in EU food products and in subsequent flax imports into Europe from Canada. In response to this, the EU immediately halted Canadian flax imports.

This article documents Canadian costs of the Triffid flax issue as an example of low level presence (LLP) of an unapproved transformation event in a zero-tolerance European market. It explores/evaluates the impacts (economic and social costs) on the Canadian industry—including the development of a stewardship program and testing protocols, the engagement and relationship strategies utilized in negotiations with the EU to resolve market access, and the overall industry response to the issue (from producers to exporters).

The article presents survey responses from more than 270 Western Canadian flax farmers. This survey data provides new insights as to how farmers manage LLP on-farm. The production attributes that are examined range from field agronomics to ability to export. Specifically, it examines how farmers have dealt with flax, in terms of production and sale, since the Fall of 2009. Detailed analysis is provided for the following supply chain components: on-farm testing, carryover costs, and opportunity costs. Finally, the article provides some insights as to who farmers trust in terms of communicating information to them on how to best manage this situation.

Key words: Flax, genetic modification, international trade, low level presence.