GM Free Cymru

McHughen, his GM Triffid Flax and the inevitable disaster

Deregistered Canadian GM flax contaminates European food supplies

The European Commission's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) has notified that flax variety FP967, otherwise known as CDC Triffid, has now been found during checks of cereal and bakery products in 10 European countries (1). The contaminated flax has also been grown in Germany, quite possibly for several years.

This has had a dramatic effect of the Canadian flax / linseed export industry, and has also effected market prices. Further EU imports are blocked while the scale of the contamination is assessed. It is now widely accepted that much of the Canadian flax growing industry may be contaminated with Triffid GM flax -- although it was taken off the market almost a decade ago, it has probably spread through cross- pollination, slapdash handling procedures, and a cavalier disregard for "sanitary" measures designed to contain the GM variety. The contamination may have escaped notice thus far because FP 967 is not routinely tested for -- unlike herbicide-tolerant varieties and Bt varieties, which are proprietary (ie owned by Monsanto, Syngenta and the other multinationals) and which have well-known genetic "fingerprints".

Ironically, the developer of this GM flax is Alan McHughen, who claimed originally that it was virtually impossible to kill. He promoted it aggressively in Canada, and pushed it through the (highly unsatisfactory) Canadian and US regulatory system for widespread cultivation (for feed and food) without adequate safety or environmental impact tests. With concerns rising, McHughen caused mayhem in the year 2000 when he insisted on giving away free samples of his GM flax to anybody who wanted them, together with free publicity materials -- in spite of frequent requests from conventional flax growers to stop his little stunt (2). It is also alleged that he failed to inform recipients of the seeds that they were GM (3). Under pressure from Canadian flax growers the registration of Triffid was revoked in 2001. The authorities were motivated above all by concerns about losing their EU markets.

COMMENT: It's quite interesting that we have in this case a scientist who "invented" a new wonder GM variety which was claimed to be virtually indestructible; who pushed it during the 1990's on a market that did not really want it; and who seems to have displayed a total disregard for any concerns about cross-contamination either into conventional flax crops or into wild relatives (4). If McHughen really did fail to inform seed recipients that they were GM seeds, that is a very serious matter indeed, involving not only irresponsibility but also deceit. He must have known that once his particular genie was out of its bottle, it would be impossible for it to get it back in again. This tells us a great deal about the methods, the motives and the ethics of certain GM scientists. It is also interesting that McHughen, while personally displaying such a cavalier attitude to biosafety issues, has been involved in a number of vitriolic campaigns aimed at discrediting well-established and competent scientists including Dr Irina Ermakova, Dr Arpad Pusztai, Dr Ann Clark, Dr Mae-wan Ho, and Dr Judy Carman. He has questioned their professional competence and their scientific ethics, and has even sought to destroy their careers through accusations made in direct approaches to university authorities (5). The "crimes" of all the scientists targeted were the discovery of negative health and environmental effects associated with GM crops and foods.

NOTE: "The Day of the Triffids" -- John Wyndham, 1951. Triffids are highly venomous and aggressive carnivorous fictional plants which display a kind of intelligence. The novel's central character speculates that "........they were the outcome of a series of ingenious biological meddlings -- and very likely accidental, at that." They are predatory and display a sort of organization -- which works well in a population that has been blinded by a meteorite shower.

Extract from a 2000 article in The Guardian (6): "Man thought he could master the triffid," wrote John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids in 1953, "tap it for oil, and stake it in the fields to stop the plants walking away on their three roots."That was before the plants started inflicting their "blind terror" on mankind and destroying their masters. Prof McHughen, who claims his creation was named after an astronomical nebula and not Wyndham's horrifying plant, concedes that his triffid is also designed to be tapped for its oil, though he does not expect it to walk or eat people. Sounding increasingly like a scientist from Wyndham's book himself, the professor insists the plant's great selling point is that it is hard to kill with herbicide. Prof McHughen's triffid was bred to resist weedkillers and grow in fields contaminated with excess herbicide that would normally kill ordinary flax and oil seed rape."



(2) Canadian GE scientist puts national flax exports to Europe at risk.

(3) Genetically Engeneered Crops and Homesteading The same tactic is used with GM "Golden Rice" which is aggressively promoted without any mention that it is a GM variety.

(4) See "Potential Hybridization of Flax with Weedy and Wild Relatives: An Avenue for Movement of Engineered Genes?" by Amit J. Jhala, Linda M. Halla, and Jocelyn C. Hall. Crop Science 2008, vol 48, p 825.

(5) See the following:


This is an excellent recent ISIS Report (23/09/09)

The Day of the Triffid in Transgene Contamination by Prof Joe Cummins

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].

Why is Triffid in flax exports? Triffid has probably contaminated most North American flax exports including 'organic' flax because the crop is significantly insect pollinated. Why has the GM contamination escaped careful scrutiny in Europe during those years of flax export? One explanation may be partly technical. The herbicides tolerated by Triffid flax are sulphonylurea derivatives and the genes transforming flax are not the usual genes used to produce herbicide tolerant crops. The promoter and terminator genes are native from the plant source of resistant genes Arabidopsis. What I am saying is that is that Triffid is a University of Saskatchewan product and does not employ the usual large company genes and that may be a reason they were not detected earlier.

Sulphonylurea herbicide resistance was selected for development because that herbicide family is used to control weeds of winter wheat which tolerates the herbicide but the herbicides persist in the soil preventing crop rotation with broad leafed crops such as flax [4, 5]. Prior to the approval of Trffid by Canada in 1995, the creators of Triffid, Professors McHuhen and Holm, chastised the government regulators for asking scientifically irrelevant question [6]. The current problem with Triffid suggests that the government regulators may have been badgered into arriving at a faulty conclusion.

Transgenic flax for industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals During the past decade, there has been a lot of pressure to produce pharmaceutical products and industrial plastics precursors in flax so as to avoid polluting 'major' food and feed crops. This is being promoted by the usual GM brigade. Such mindless pollution of flax fails to recognize the crop’s natural dietary and medicinal properties. The main objection to the use of transgenic flax to produce industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals is that even though flax is mainly self pollinated it is also significantly insect pollinated (to the order of five percent or more of the pollination [7-9]). Gene flow from flax occurs to wild and weedy relatives that include several species native to North America as well as feral agronomic flax [10].

The detection of transgenic flax Triffid in Canadian imports for food and feed in Europe is disturbing because the production of Triffid flax was officially discontinued in 2001. The implication is that the entire Canadian flax crop may have been contaminated by exposure to the genetically modified crop during the five years in which 200 000 bushels of Triffid flax were produced and marketed in North America. The current problems with Triffid flax demonstrates most emphatically that flax is not suitable for producing transgenic industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals.

References 1. CheckBiotech Specific test now available for recently detected unauthorized GM flax/linseed variety FP967 (CDC Triffid) Thursday, September 10, 2009 _gm_flaxlinseed_variety_fp9

2. Agbios GM Database CDC-FL001-2(FP967) Flax,Linseed CDC Triffid 2009

3. Warick J. GM Flax Seed Yanked Off Canadian Market Rounded Up, Crushed 2001 ,

4. McHughen A. Petition 98-335-01p USDA Petition for determination of nonregulated status 7 CFR 340-6 CDC Triffid 1998

5. Canadian Food Inspection Agency Plant Health and Production Division, Plant Biosafety Offic e Plant Health and Production Division,Plant Biosafety Office Decision Document 98-24: Determination of the Safety of the Crop Development Centre's 'CDC Triffid', a Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) Variety Tolerant to Soil Residues of Triasulfuron and Metsulfuron-methyl 1998,

6. McHughen A, Holm R. Just the Flax. Bio/Technology 1995, 13, 926

7. Cummins J. The facts on flax. Nature Biotechnology 2002, 2, 803.

8. McGregor, S. Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants. (US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, USA, 1976).

9. US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fed. Reg. 64, 28794--29795 (1999).

10. Jhalaa J, Halla L, Hallc J.j Potential hybridization of flax with weedy and wild relatives: an avenue form of engineered genes? Crop Science 2008, 48, 825-840.