GM Seed Stranded Offshore

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
1 May 2007, at 1:00am

CANADA - Close to 200 tonnes of a genetically modified safflower seed, which is not allowed anywhere near Canadian dinner tables or farm production, is sitting at a Chilean port waiting to be shipped to Vancouver.

The safflower seed, containing fish growth hormone, was due to leave port on Monday, April 30, heading for a final destination of Calgary for processing, say the Canadian entrepreneurs who engineered the seed for use in aquaculture.

But plans are in limbo because the federal government has now refused to issue the permit needed to import the seed into Canada.

“All these red flags have gone up at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,” says Rick Keon, of SemBioSys Genetics Inc., whose shipment is stuck at a dock.

There are growing concerns that Canadian officials are being asked to allow large quantities of drug-producing seed, which cannot be commercially grown in Canada, to move back and forth across the border.

SemBioSys, a leading biotechnology company, says it had had little choice but to grow its high-tech crops offshore because of the endless and unresolved debate about whether to allow molecular farming in Canada.

“The discussion has gone on for years,” says Mr. Keon, SemBioSys’ manager of planting operations and field regulatory affairs.

Millions of Canadian tax dollars have been spent engineering drug-producing plants, long touted as one of the boons of the genetics era. SemBioSys’ safflowers, which produce growth hormone, human insulin and drugs for heart disease, have been developed through government-funded research at the University of Calgary.

There is unanimous agreement that GM drug-producing plants should be prevented from getting into the environment and from becoming mixed in the food supply chain. However, this technology has many advantages and through careful control and monitoring could bring huge benefits to food production.