TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has found genetically modified flaxseed, which has not been approved by Japan, in imports from Canada, health ministry officials said on Monday.
In Japan, the bulk of flaxseed is used to produce oil for industrial uses such as the production of paint, with the waste from that process used to produce animal feed and some food for human consumption, a farm ministry official said.
“If the GMO material exceeds 1 percent, it cannot be used for animal feed,” he said.
Canada is the world’s top producer and exporter of flax, a blue-flowering plant also called linseed that produces oil for linoleum flooring and seed for baked goods, as well as animal feed.
European and Japanese consumers are reluctant to eat genetically modified food for fear of unknown longer-term health effects.
Japan imported 11,713 tonnes of flaxseed in 2008, all of which came from Canada, making it Canada’s third largest flax market.
The Japanese ministry discovered the GMO material FP967 when it made spot checks on shipments of flaxseed for food use exported by Canmar Grain Products Ltd of Canada, that arrived in Japan in October.
A ministry official said all flaxseed shipments for food use must now be checked to make sure that it has not been contaminated by the GMO material.
The checks will continue until the Canadian government addresses the issue and takes steps to improve the situation, he said. Such inspections usually take about a week to be completed.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture said it would also begin checking Canadian flaxseed imported for feed use.
The same GMO material has been found in the European Union from Canadian flax shipments since September, virtually shutting down Canada’s top flax market.
Canada and the EU recently agreed on a system of testing and documentation of GMO materials in Canadian flax shipments but little flax is moving yet to Europe, with time getting short. Canada ships flax to Europe through the Port of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, which usually freezes by mid-December.
Port of Vancouver, through which Canada ships flax to Japan, has a longer shipping season.
Flax industry officials were meeting on Monday with government officials in Ottawa.
Canadian flax prices dropped in September when GMO flax was found in Europe to C$6-C$7 per bushel from C$10, but they have since risen to between C$8 and C$9 a bushel, said Gregor Beck, who grows flax in the western province of Saskatchewan.
Flax trade problems may have soured many farmers on the oilseed and could lead to them switching acres to other crops next year, said Beck, a director of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission. Farmers are expected to harvest 965,000 tonnes of flax this year, according to Canada’s agriculture department.
FP967, a flax variety known as Triffid, is the only GMO flax ever produced. A Canadian university researcher developed it in the 1990s and officials in Canada and the U.S. authorized it for use in feed and food in the late 1990s.
The flax industry later lobbied successfully for the Canadian government to deregister Triffid in 2001 and acquired most of the certified seed, which it destroyed or crushed domestically.
Reporting by Miho Yoshikawa and Risa Maeda in Tokyo and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Canada; Editing by Marguerita Choy