A little poppy on the Prairies? Feds mulled commercial crop: document

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 28, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    A little poppy on the Prairies? Feds mulled commercial crop: document

    OTTAWA — Another kind of flower could be coming to Wild Rose Country.
    A type of opium poppy used to make painkillers may be sown across southern Alberta's plains, a newly released document shows.
    The federal government is giving thought to planting Canada's first commercial poppy crop and the parched Prairies are the perfect place to do it, says a briefing note for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

    "Parts of Canada, particularly southern Alberta, are ideally suited for the production of poppies," it says.

    Ottawa is mulling a variation of the opium poppy called the thebaine poppy.
    Thebaine - chemically similar to both morphine and codeine - is used to make painkillers such as percocet, buprenorphine, oxycodone, naloxone and naltrexone.

    Poppies could be a cash crop for farmers battered by record dry weather this year.

    "Significant domestic consumer demand and commercial opportunity for the agricultural sector exists relative to poppy production in Canada," it says.
    The government estimates farmers could earn $3,000 to $6,000 a hectare growing poppies, compared to about $800 for a hectare of wheat.

    The Canadian Press obtained the document under the Access to Information Act.

    The briefing note, dated Feb. 10, does not make any recommendations and it is marked for "information only."

    It's not clear if the government ever reached a conclusion over a commercial poppy crop. The Agriculture Department said the note wasn't meant to elicit a decision.

    "The research for the note did not find a plan for the production of thebaine poppies in Canada, and the note did not seek a decision to that effect," spokesman Patrick Girard said in an email.

    Agencies such as Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would have to approve and regulate any plan to grow poppies, he added.
    It's illegal in Canada to possess the opium poppy plant or its derivatives, other than poppyseed. Canada gets most of its poppy products from Australia and France, where the plants are grown legally.

    The only places in Canada where poppies are legally grown are at labs in Flin Flon, Man., and the University of Calgary, which hold research licences.
    Thebaine poppies are prized because they're more malleable as a chemical and act as feedstock for painkillers like oxycodone, said Peter Facchini, who teaches at the university and holds the Canada research chair in plant biotechnology.

    The poppies are also difficult to turn into street drugs, he added.
    "Thebaine itself, because it's non-narcotic - and in this poppy variety there's no codeine or morphine at all - you could not divert the crop into illicit activity," Facchini said.

    "Well, you could, but you'd probably have to have a PhD in chemistry to be able to convert thebaine to heroin, while you can do morphine-to-heroin conversion in your garage with a few simple chemicals."

    But some wonder why Canada is giving thought to growing poppies at home while taking a see-no-evil approach in Afghanistan to both the cultivation and the eradication of the crops.

    "It seems to be very ironic if you directly combine the situation in Afghanistan with the policy at home," said Jorrit Kamminga of the International Council on Security and Development, a group that does research in Afghanistan.

    Poppies flourish across Afghanistan's dust-dry south - including Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed.

    From those sere plains comes 90 per cent of the world's opium, the raw material for heroin. The multibillion-dollar harvest helps fund Taliban militants and criminal groups.

    Kamminga suggested Canada could pick the insurgents' pockets by buying poppies from Afghan farmers.

    "Canada at home is willing to grow poppies while they could benefit from a similar and very important industry in Afghanistan, which at the same time would do a lot to control the insurgency," he said.

    The briefing note apparently anticipates a public-relations battle over planting poppies on the Prairies.

    "Education and awareness efforts regarding the pros and cons of poppy production in Canada are limited," it says.

    By Steve Rennie (CP)


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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Poppy plan waiting for approval

    Glen Metzler is hoping evidence of support from southern Alberta business will help spur the federal government toward final approval of his plans to grow medicinal poppies in southern Alberta.

    In a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach, Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce president Paul Pharo asks the province to press federal counterparts, especially Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, to proceed swiftly with regulatory or licensing approvals needed to bring about what Pharo calls a “high value-added and environmentally sustainable industry” — thebaine poppies, used in the making of various painkillers.

    Thebaine is a non-narcotic alkaloid that can’t be converted to street drugs, so crop security is not an issue.

    “(Federal officials) tell us it’s in process,” Metzler said. “They’re waiting for the security assessment to come through for the field trials. They’re doing that with the RCMP, and once that’s cleared, it has to go to the minister’s desk, and when she signs off on it we have our licence.”

    Former RCMP Chief Supt. Lloyd Hickman has indicated he’s prepared to assist RCMP in Ottawa on the security assessment, should the Office of Controlled Substances so desire. Hickman’s experience includes an array of security assignments at the highest levels, including appointment as security co-ordinator for the G8 Summit in 2001 — the largest police security operation held in Canada at the time.

    Metzler, managing director of API Labs Inc., has been waiting for two years to get federal approval to sow the first test crop, and believes regulatory hurdles have all been cleared.

    "We've supplied the Office of Controlled Substances with all the information they've requested,” Metzler told The Herald in October.

    “We've met with (federal Agriculture) Minister (Gerry) Ritz, we've had meetings with health. As far as we know, everything is a go. There isn't anything negative that's come back out of government, we're just waiting for them to finish the bureaucratic process and actually get us our licence.

    Research-backed trials are ready to go in the spring, should the licence come through — but Metzler’s been waiting for two and a half years.

    In a letter to Aglukkaq, Pharo reminded the minister of the importance of private-sector investment in the continued improvement of economic health.

    “The proposal by API Labs is the type of private-sector investment expected in order to step away from the needed but temporary public-sector stimulus of the economy,” Pharo said.

    “Fluctuations in exchange rates have changed the competitive landscape for agriculture and food processing.”

    Pharo added that already once in this decade aggregate net farm income in Canada has been negative, a situation that never occurred even during the Great Depression. In the next year, he said, some believe it may happen again.

    The overall objective of API Labs is to develop the growth regime for the poppy variety, establish the commercial extraction process for the medical ingredients and build a dominant market position for these compounds, initially in Canada and subsequently in the United States and other markets.

    Where it is being grown, the new crop has been yielding between $3,000 and $6,000 a hectare, compared with $800 for wheat.
    Large-scale farming could possibly even create more than 200 jobs, at a processing plant eyed for development in the region in a couple of years.

    “The role the federal government can play is to unleash this investment potential through smart and timely management of regulatory processes,” Pharo said.

    Written by Sherri Gallant
    Saturday, 26 December 2009

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