Pubdate: Sat, 26 Dec 2009
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2009 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Sherri Gallant


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

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

"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

"The role the federal government can play is to unleash this
investment potential through smart and timely management of regulatory
processes," Pharo said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake