Canada flax not shipping to EU, key port to close

Wed Dec 9, 2009 3:43pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada has not shipped any of its new flax crop to its top market, the European Union, because of concerns about genetically modified (GMO) material, the Flax Council of Canada said on Wednesday.

And the window of opportunity is closing as the crop's most important port nears closure for the winter.

The European Union, which traditionally buys 70 percent of Canada's flax, first detected GMO material in a Canadian flax shipment in July. There is no GMO flax approved in the EU, where consumers are wary of long-term GMO effects.

Although the EU has not banned all flax imports from Canada, exporters deem shipments to the EU risky even with Canada and the EU agreeing on testing protocols.

Flax shipments travel from Western Canada to the Port of Thunder Bay, through which they reach the Atlantic Ocean. The port's shipping season typically ends in late December when its harbor on Lake Superior and the Welland Canal joining Lake Ontario and Lake Erie freeze.

There has been talk in the industry about exporters making test shipments to Europe, but Flax Council president Barry Hall said he's not aware of it.

"I don't think anything has shipped at all."

Shippers could move flax by rail to the St. Lawrence Seaway or through Port Metro Vancouver on the Pacific Coast, Hall said, but added those options may raise concerns about logistics and distance.   Continued...