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New Democrat wants to regulate genetically modified crops amid export crisis

OTTAWA - Members of Parliament are debating a private-member's bill this week that its proponents say would fill a critical gap in regulations governing genetically engineered seeds.

The bill presented by NDP agriculture critic Alex Atamanenko, the MP representing B.C.'s Southern Interior, would require an analysis of potential harm to export markets before sales of any new genetically engineered seeds are allowed.

Canadian approvals of genetically engineered seeds are currently based on environmental and health assessments, but Atamanenko says they ignore their potential effects on export markets.

Canada's flax industry has been shut out of its largest export market after traces of Triffid, a genetically modified form of the crop ordered destroyed 10 years ago, was found in shipments.

The European Union buys 70 per cent of Canadian flax and has a zero-tolerance policy regarding genetically modified organisms.

Officials say Canada's entire $320-million industry is threatened.

"Farmers have been hit hard enough over the years," Atamanenko said Tuesday. "We have seen what has happened to flax; we have seen the other crisis that is hitting hog producers, cattle producers.

"We don't want to throw another obstacle into the ability of farmers to produce good-quality food and to make a living. It's important to prevent happening to wheat and alfalfa what is happening to flax."

Industry officials have been scrambling to weed out the offending seed since the problem was discovered in September. Only about one in 10,000 flax seeds are affected.

The modified Triffid flax seed was deregistered and ordered destroyed 10 years ago.

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