US: Non-GM canola oil demand has crusher scrambling

Sean Pratt, Western Producer May 24 2013

 

A major canola crusher is calling for a retreat from the 17-year march toward genetically modified canola.

Pacific Coast Canola, a newly constructed processing plant in Warden, Washington, will take as much non-GM canola as it can find.

“The market for non-GMO canola in the west coast of the United States seems to have come on very quickly and very strong,” said Joel Horn, president of Legumex Walker Inc., which owns 85 percent of Pacific Coast Canola.

Demand for the specialty oil is driven by a push for GM labelling.

Whole Foods Market recently announced that all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labelled by 2018 to indicate whether they contain genetically modified ingredients.

The company bills itself as the world’s leader in natural and organic foods, with more than 340 grocery stores in North America and the United Kingdom.

Plenty of companies on the U.S. west coast are taking similar steps, despite the failure of Proposition 37, an attempt to introduce mandatory GM labelling in California.

Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends Inc., a California company that studies food trends, told delegates attending the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention earlier this year that GM labelling is no longer just an idle threat.

“If there is anyone in this room who thinks that GMOs are not going to be an issue, I’m telling you you’re smoking dope,” she said.

Sloan recently attended the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California, where thousands of food retailers were showcasing their latest healthy food products.

“Nearly 90 percent of them had GMO-free on the label,” she said.

Sloan was surprised to hear senior Walmart officials say they will no longer oppose GM labelling.

Horn said the sudden demand for non-GM canola oil is strong, and customers are willing to pay a healthy premium.

Pacific Coast Canola has already taken its first delivery of non-GM canola seed and has contracted a small amount of this year’s acreage with growers in the western United States.

The problem is that little non-GM canola is grown in North America, which makes planting seed hard to find.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, 97.5 percent of the canola grown in Canada last year was GM.

“Everyone knows (acreage) is small, but we’re doing everything we can to make it significant,” said Horn.

“We’ll crush as much non-GMO as we can get our hands on right now because the demand for the oil is so high.”

He hopes seed producers will ramp up production this year so that there is ample supply of non-GM planting seed for the company’s 2014 contracting program.

Growers are excited about the crop because the premium they receive for growing it offsets the yield disadvantage compared to GM canola.

Horn said the Warden plant is ideally situated to meet the burgeoning demand for the specialty oil from the multibillion-dollar food processing industry in the Pacific Northwest.

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