The Triffid Flax Story: growers’ perspective (plus more)

Over the past couple of years, I have been working with the TUFGEN group (Total Utilization of Flax Genomics) at the University of Saskatchewan.  As the social scientist on the team, I was tasked with (among other things) exploring the Triffid issue that came up in 2009. So, I joined forces with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission and together we hosted a focus group, administered a flax grower survey and conducted one-on-one interviews with industry stakeholders.  We were able to, in almost real-time, document the Triffid issue from 2009 up until present. Our findings have been published in an article in the AgBioForum journal. A background to the story and a summary of our findings are outlined below.

Background: Triffid flax was developed in the late 1980s at the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan and was designed to thrive in soil containing residues from sulfonylurea-type herbices (good weed control option).  It received both feed and food regulatory approval in Canada and the US by the late 1990s.  However, negative consumer response to genetic modified crops in the EU (major flax export market) forced the Canadian flax industry to make a tough decision.  Triffid was voluntarily removed from the market. In fact, it was never even commercially grown.  Done deal, right? Nope. In 2009, Triffid flax was discovered in baking products in the EU food chain.  As you can imagine, this threw the Canadian industry into a whirlwind… “A winter of discontent turned into the perfect storm of all that can go wrong…”

Findings:

1. Wide spread low-level presence of Triffid flax across the Canadian growing belt is likely multifaceted and due to a) persistence of the variety (in fields where growers did not rotate for three years and in seed mixing/movement by equipment) and in the b) dispersal of the variety (flax seed ‘sticks’ when wet or dry).

2. Exports of flax into the EU food market (Canada’s major export market for flax) has NOT resumed but Canada is meeting exports there for industrial use.  Russia and the Ukraine have stepped up production and are filling the gaps in the EU food market.

3. Although prices have recovered to some degree and a certain amount of complacency has settled in, the Triffid situation has left some flax growers very frustrated. Particularly with the costs associated with ongoing testing (which continues according to the agreement between Canada and the EU).

4. Costs to the Canadian industry, although difficult to estimate, total CDN $30 Million. This includes demurrage, testing, segregation and other costs. The EU industry sustained ~ CDN $50 million.

This story is documented (yes, ‘academically’ in journal format – but not too difficult of a read) in pdf format here (Ryan and Smyth Triffid 2012).  A link to the article in the online journal AgBioForum (“Economic Implications of Low-level Presence in a Zero-Tolerance European Import Market: The Case of Canadian Triffid Flax” Ryan and Smyth) is here: http://www.agbioforum.org/v15n1/v15n1a03-ryan.htm. We worked with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission and with the other industry organizations to pull this story together.  A huge component of our work revolved around a ‘farmer survey’. The article includes very passionate quotes from Canadian farmers.

I would love to hear your comments! This represents an interesting turn in Canada’s agricultural history.  I was happy to be part of the team effort to get this story out!

Slide presentation on this work available on the SaskFlax website: http://www.saskflax.com/PDFs/2012/10_2012_CamiRyan.pdf

– – – –

We (Stuart Smyth and I) are grateful for the support of The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, Flax Council of Canada, our colleagues at TUFGEN and in the Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics at the U of S and the Canadian Agricultural Adaption Program (CAAP) and Agricultural Council of Saskatchewan, Inc. for funding.

Energy policy in EU and US: new publication by rising academic talent

January 25, 2012

In 2011, I had the priviledge to act as external on Alphanso Williams’ Masters thesis defense.  It was an outstanding effort by a very talented young academic.  Alphanso’s enthusiasm has served him well as he tackles policy issues around energy.  In this article entitled “Wishful Thinking in Energy Policy:Biofuels in the US and EU” in Energy Politics 2011 (developed out of Williams’ Masters research), Alphanso and Dr. Bill Kerr contrast and compare US and EU energy policies.  

Excerpts:

“It would appear that in both the European Union and the United States, the shortfalls in meeting the mandates are likely to be significant. For those contemplating investments in the energy sector, both where biofuel mandates have been put in place and around the world, this creates considerable uncertainty.”

“…the restrictions on technology and land use could be removed allowing more agricultural land to be diverted to production of biodiesel and corn-based ethanol. This would likely re-ignite the food-versus-fuel debate…”

In short…

“None of these options is politically palatable. There is no obvious policy choice.”

Congratulations, again, to Alphanso on his successful defense.  His work points out some of the problems with existing energy policies. This article will represent a first in many, I am sure

Williams-Kerr_-_Biofuels_-_Energy_Politics_2011_(1).pdf
Download this file

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Study on attitudes of EU farmers on GM Crop Adoption.

January 16, 2012

New study in Plant Biotechnology Journal on Attitudes of European Farmers on GM crop adoption by Areal et al (December 2011).

Excerpt:

“The willingness to adopt GMHT crops from a number of European farmers would be significantly affected by the implementation of coexistence measures, especially those that mean an economic burden for the farmer.”

For more info, see copy of article below!

Attitudes_of_EU_farmers_to_biotech_crops_December_2011.pdf
Download this file

No long term effects of GMO consumption: a review article by Snell et al…

UPDATE: December 16, 2011

This just posted in Applied Mythology – response to the review article:

http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2011/12/24-long-term-feeding-studies-reviewed.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AppliedMythology+%28Applied+Mythology%29

 

December 15, 2011

Here is a new and excellent review article by Snell et al (2011) entitled “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials” recently published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Contrary to popular beliefs, long term studies HAVE been conducted on GMO consumption and they show NO LONG TERM effects.  The Snell et al article reviews outline several studies examining effects GM lines of maize, potato, soybean, rice and triticale.  The studies in question are of two types:

– 12 long term toxicological studies, where feeding time exceeds well over (up to 2 years) that of the 90 day studies classically used in toxicological studies applied to GMOs

 – 12 studies whose duration extended over several generations of animals.

KEY TAKEAWAY: “These studies by public research laboratories do not reveal any safety problem linked to long term consumption of GMO-derived food.” M. Kuntz  (For more interesting insights, I invite you to check out Marcel Kuntz’s website http://www.marcel-kuntz-ogm.fr.  Kuntz is a co-author on the Food and Chemical Toxicology article.) 

Article reference:

C. Snell, A. Bernheim, J.B. Bergé, M. Kuntz, G. Pascal, A. Paris, & A.E. Ricroch (2011) Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review. Food and Chemical Toxicology

Other good sources related to this topic:

Flachowsky, G., Halle, I., & Aulrich, K. (2005)
    Long term feeding of Bt-corn – a ten-generation study with quails. Archives of Animal Nutrition, 59, 6, pp  449-451
    <Go to ISI>://000233641600008 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Feed/Flachowsky-Long-Term-Feedingstudy-2005.pdf

Flachowsky, G. & Wenk, C. (2010)
    The role of animal feeding trials for the nutritional and safety assessment of feeds from genetically modified plants – Present stage and future challenges. Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences, 19, 2, pp  149-170
    <Go to ISI>://WOS:000278973200001 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Feed/Flachovsky-Role-Animal-Feeding-2010.pdf

Castaldini, M., Turrini, A., Sbrana, C., Benedetti, A., Marchionni, M., Mocali, S., Fabiani, A., Landi, S., Santomassimo, F., Pietrangeli, B., Nuti, M.P., Miclaus, N., & Giovannetti, M. (2005)
    Impact of Bt corn on rhizospheric and on beneficial mycorrhizal symbiosis and soil eubacterial communities iosis in experimental microcosms. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71, 11, pp  6719-6729
    <Go to ISI>://000233225000033 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Longterm/Castaldini-Impact-Bt-Rhizospheric-2005.pdf

Crawley, M.J. (1995)
    Long term ecological impacts of the release of genetically modified organisms,  Strasbourg  Council of Europe Press,   Pan-European conference on the potential long-term ecological impact of genetically modified organisms, Ed.   pp 43-69
    http://book.coe.int/EN/ficheouvrage.php?PAGEID=36&=EN&produit_aliasid=1134

Hommel, B. & Pallutt, B. (2002)
    Evaluation of herbicide resistance against glufosinate in oilseed rape and maize in view of integrated plant protection – results of a long-term field experiment started in 1996 with a special view on field flora. Zeitschrift Fur Pflanzenkrankheiten Und Pflanzenschutz-Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection,  pp  985-994
    <Go to ISI>://000202836900128 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Longterm/Hommel-Bewertung-Herbizidresistenz-2002.pdf

Leigh, R.A. & Johnston, A.E. (1994)
    Long Term Experiments in Agricultural and Ecological Sciences,  Rothamstead, 14-17 July 1993  CAB International,   Conference to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Rothamstead Experimental Station, Ed.   pp 428
    http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/biola/lang/903288

Mattingly, G.E.G. & Johnston, A.E. (1976)
    Long-Term Rotation Experiments at Rothamsted and Saxmundham-Experimental-Stations – Effects of Treatments on Crop Yields and Soil Analyses and Recent Modifications in Purpose and Design. Annales Agronomiques, 27, 5-6, pp  743-769
    <Go to ISI>://A1976DN70300014 AND NEBIS 20111201

Rothamsted Research (2006)    
Guide to the classical and other long term experiments, dataset and sample archive Printed by Premier Printers Ltd, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. © Lawes Agricultural Trust Co. Ltd, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 2JQ, UK,  IS: ISBN 0 9514456 9 3, pp 56
    http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/resources/LongTermExperiments.pdf

Zueghart, W., Benzler, A., Berhorn, F., Sukopp, U., & Graef, F. (2008)
    Determining indicators, methods and sites for monitoring potential adverse effects of genetically modified plants to the environment: the legal and conceptional framework for implementation. Euphytica, 164, 3, pp  845-852
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10681-007-9475-6 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Longterm/Zueghart-Determining-Indicators-Monitoring-2008.pdf

“Bean-stalker” heads ‘Down Under’

February 14, 2011

Several months ago, I applied for and was awarded Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) funding to conduct research on private-public partnerships in pulse research in Australia and Canada.  This research proposal grew out of work we (Phillips, Boland and Ryan) conducted on global public-private pulse research networks (see related blog entry: http://doccami.posterous.com/global-networks-of-actors-in-plant-genetic-re).  We discovered that of all countries in the world, Australia seems to be doing something right.  The network is well-connected and also well linked to global sources.  Canada, on the other hand, is a bit more fragmented.  So, what lessons can Canada learn from Australia?

The ASSA funding and my partnership with co-investigator, Dr. K. Siddique of the University of Western Australia, will enable me to explore this Australian pulse network a bit more.  I leave Thursday for ‘Down Under’ where, for three weeks, I will have the opportunity to interview folks connected to various institutions conducting pulse research and breeding (lentil, chick peas, beans etc).  All in all, it looks to be an interesting ride!  I will spend the first leg of my journey in Perth, at the University of Western Australia where I will meet with folks and attend the Western Australia Agribusiness Crop Update meetings on the 23rd and 24th.  Then I will head to Adelaide where the Pulse Breeding Australia meetings are scheduled for March 1st to the 3rd.  Pulse breeders across Australia will be in attendance. I will head to Canberra on the 3rd for meetings there and, finally, will end my journey in Melbourne (which will include a stop at LaTrobe University).  I will head home to Alberta on the 9th.

I look forward to keeping you posted as to how things transpire.  I hear that the fires are a-burning in Perth and that I may witness some of the effects of recent floodings in the Melbourne area.  I guess we shall see…

Excerpt from our work:

“This system consists of the major export countries of Canada, the USA and Australia along with two Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), ICARDA and ICRISAT and some individual research centres in France, India and South Africa. Institutionally, this system is composed of 17 P3s (26%), 22 universities (33%) and 27 government research centres (41%). There is a discernable absence of private firms. With one notable exception P3s dominate the three measures of influence. There are three P3s with total degree centrality measures of two or more standard deviations above mean, the Crop Development Centre/Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (CDC/SPG) of Canada and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the Centre for Legumes in a Mediterranean Area (CLIMA), both of Australia.This indicates that these organizations are engaged in a higher level of network activity than other network institutions. Both the GRDC and CLIMA are the top ranked eigenvector actors according to their measures of two standard deviations above average (see table: 6.2 below), suggesting these are the only two actors with significant power rankings in this network.  In table: 6.3, the CDC/SPG with a measure six standard deviations above mean and the US Government research centre at Pullman, Washington with a measure of two standard deviations above mean both act as gatekeepers, controlling the flow of information, while experiencing a level of independence  due to multiple sources of new information. The CDC/SPG in particular, due to the magnitude of its betweeness measure, may occupy a unique position in this network regarding its ability to structure the flow of new information.”

Export_systems_p3s

 

 

 

Social media strategy is a must for science advocates

Launching a social media strategy to advocate for science: is GE3LS* missing the boat?

January 20, 2011

Lackes, et al., (2009), finds that few scientists use social media tools, significantly lagging the adoption rates for both business and personal use. Scientific research is essentially a communication-driven process where many of its contributors, stakeholders and consumers are part of what we might refer to as “Generation F” (the ‘Facebook’ generation). The widespread adoption of social media tools to communicate and share information has significantly changed the science-based research landscape. It’s not enough to merely sit in our labs, closed off from the world. Being memorable, as an organization or entity, is crucial in this Web 2.0 world where we are bombarded daily by millions of sound bytes.  Further complicating the matter for science and science advocates is the fact that NGOs, INGOs and other interest groups have been very proficient in taking up Internet-based communication tools to reach entirely new audiences.  As a result they are able to quickly build coalitions and mobilize the public around specific issues of interest at relatively low marginal costs (Ryan 2010).

For example, we conducted a poll at the annual VALGEN meetings in Banff in January 2010. Of the 28 scientists in the room, only 58.3% stated that they used social media tools and only 36.9% of THOSE used social media for professional purposes (professional networking, recruitment, sharing/accessing knowledge).

This lag in the adoption of social media strategies represents significant costs to both scientific and social science research agendas. For society, scientific progress far outpaces our capacity as stakeholders to adopt or understand scientific or technological developments. Thus, communication – through the integration of optimal social media strategies – becomes the currency for bridging connections between the spheres of science, technology and society.

Is GE3LS missing an opportunity here?  Do we need to formally incorporate social media strategies into our research agendas to support and advocate for science?

                                              

Lackes, R., M. Siepermann and E. Frank. (2009). “Social networks as an approach to the enhancement of collaboration among scientists.” International Journal of Web-based Communities. Volume 5, Number 4.  Pps 577-592. 

Ryan, C. D. (2010).  “Framing, Exploring and Understanding Online Anti-Technology Advocacy Networks.” Working paper. Available online at: http://doccami.posterous.com/online-anti-technology-advocacy-networks-netw. Accessed on: January 17, 2011.

 

*GE3LS is the acronym that stands for genomics and its related ethical, economic, environmental, legal and social aspects. GE3LS research complements genomics research by addressing questions that lie at the interface between science and society. 

http://www.genomecanada.ca/en/ge3ls/