Prof Alan McHughen of the University of Saskatchewan is the author of 'Pandora's Picnic Basket, the Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods'.
McHughen claims to expose myths and misunderstandings about GE and its applications. While complaining of the low level of debate on this issue in the UK, McHugen praises the Canadian regulatory system - a system which has been rocked by a series of scandals over its manner of approval of GE products. (see for example:
McHughen calls on us not to be distracted by "sensational scare stories" but to make sure that we are "aware of the real hazards". As the article below makes plain, however, even when dealing wih his own pet subject, McHughen himself seems aware, at best, of only part of the story.
That's assuming, of course, that one regards plant material containing plastics and/or pharmaceuticals going into animal feed as a problem.
Flax growers reject GM proposal
The Western Producer
Thursday November 1, 2001
Imagine the hullabaloo if the genetically modified canola that has cropped up in conventional fields in recent years was a variety designed to make plastics or pharmaceuticals.
That`s a scenario one GM expert is trying to prevent.
University of Saskatchewan professor Alan McHughen wants research into GM crops that produce high-value industrial products shifted from canola to another oilseed.
"I'd like to encourage more people to look at flax as the host for some of these things," said McHughen, who has written a book about the potential and hazards of GM food.
He said flax is a better fit for these kinds of applications because it is already primarily used for industrial purposes rather than human consumption.
"One could envisage all sorts of damage being wrought if by mistake a genetically engineered pharmaceutical-producing canola seed got into the regular oilseed type canola."
But it wouldn't be as big a problem, he added, if flaxseed genetically modified to be made into plastic or drugs was mistakenly introduced into commercial flax lines. Instead of landing on someone's dinner plate, it would end up in a can of paint or a sheet of linoleum.
Chris Hale, president of Flax Growers Western Canada, said that line of thinking shows a "clear misunderstanding" of flax markets.
He said Europe, which is "far and away" the biggest importer of Canadian flax, requires an assurance from the Canadian Grain Commission that no GM flax is grown here.
Hale said flax exported to Europe is used for industrial purposes, but the residue is fed to livestock.
"If you don't think Europeans are super sensitive about what they're feeding their livestock, I guess a little more research needs to be done."
The flax industry has fought the introduction of GM crops. It managed to get CDC Triffid, a chemical-resistant variety developed by McHughen, banned from commercial production. They don`t want to see more research on GM flax in the near future.
"We would not support and very likely actively resist or lobby against that sort of work being done in the short term," Hale said.
McHughen said a line of flax that could produce plastics or drugs would be a high-value crop. Manufacturers would pay big money for biodegradable plastic or pharmaceuticals that could be produced without having to harvest plants from South America's Amazon Basin.
One of the reasons he is convinced that flax is a better candidate than canola for this type of research is that pollen drift isn't a problem with flax.
"It doesn't have that outcrossing problem, so you have a much greater degree of confidence that when you grow the specialty crop in a particular area, it`s going to stay there."
Perhaps more importantly, introducing a new kind of flax to be used for industrial purposes doesn`t take a food crop out of production. The same can't be said for canola, he said.
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