Poppy Seed production in Canada
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Kevin Rattai
Posted on: January 19, 1999

I have been doing research on Poppy Seed production in Canada for a client and was refered to Richter’s for more information and possibly for seed.

My client is interested in growing a few acres of Poppy for Seed production for the food services industry. The concern is the legal aspects of growing poppy. My own knowlege suggests that growing poppy is illegal. This information was from being from a farm in which my parents wanted to grow poppy for seed for our own use in bread products, etc.

Things may have changed, as this was 10 years ago, but there is the concerns based on this past knowlege. Are there any specific growing restrictions? Is there a need to register with local and/or other law enforcement agencies?

Our opium poppy strains are intended for seed production. They are not intended for the production of opium or any of the constituents or derivatives of opium -- that would be illegal in Canada.

There is no question that possession of seeds and the sale of seeds is legal in Canada. Canada imports thousands of tonnes of seeds for the baking industry annually. The situation is the much the same in the United States and in Europe. Opium poppy seeds are the "poppy seeds" used in bagels, breads, pastries, halva, and other baked and confectionary goods.

The reason why seeds are clearly legal is the seeds do not contain any of the opiate compounds prohibited by federal statutes. Indeed, in order to permit the trade of poppy seeds, seeds are specifically excluded from the prohibition.

Now, once the seeds are planted and plant are grown, the legal status becomes less clear. If you or client have any doubts about the legal status of growing poppy seeds, you should consult a lawyer for legal advice before embarking on your project. What follows below is our own interpretation which we believe to be correct; but not being lawyers we cannot guarantee that it will be correct, or will survive a test in court. We have studied the situation carefully, including the relevant statutes, and we have concluded that there is little risk for our customers.

It is important to note that, in the United States and Canada, opium poppy seeds have been sold for planting purposes for years. Several large seed companies in the U.S. are listing seeds, and sometimes they are even sold in retail packets in seed racks in Canada and the United States.

The crux of our interpretation depends on whether or not there is an attempt to harvest opium from the plants. In order to harvest opium, one must score the immature seed heads with a knife to cause the opium latex to exude. It is this latex that is later scraped off and sold as "opium" or processed to produce morphine, heroin, etc.

If the scoring procedure is not done, then the opium latex cannot exude, and as the seed heads mature to produce the seeds, the ability of the seed heads to produce latex disappears.

So, in our interpretation, as long as the seed heads are not scored and latex not collected, and as long as the seed heads are allowed to mature, there is no offense. The Narcotics Control Act specifically prohibits the opium, morphine, heroin, etc., but not the plant parts.

In addition, the strains we sell are traditionally grown in Turkey for seed production, not opium production. It is quite likely that these strains are low opiate varieties that are not suited for opium production.

Again, if you or your client have concerns, seek the advice of a lawyer familar with the relevant laws. We cannot any guarantee that our interpretation is correct.

Is there a maximum or minimum requirements for agricultural production of poppy for seed? And further to production and yields, what is the rate at which poppy seed should be sowed? How many plants per acre is the maximum efficiency and what is the average expected yield based on plant or acreage?

The seeding rate is 3 kg/ha (equivalent to about 3 lbs/acre). We don’t have specific pH or fertilizer recommendations, except that the soil should be well-drained. Seeds are sown in autumn or spring in production area in the Orient; here it is unknown whether fall seeding is successful in commercial plantings. We do not have seed yield data either.

The client is based in Manitoba and we know the conditions for poppy seed production is good. The client wants to grow about three acres of crop. Is there any distribution channels for the new seed you could point me towards? Does Richters buy back new seed? Are there restrictions of the sale of the seed once it is cultivated?

There are no established distribution channels for Canadian grown poppy seeds. As mentioned already, the sale of seeds is clearly legal in Canada and there are no restrictions on how or to whom you sell poppy seeds. Richters is not presently active in the large scale bulk spice and herbs market, so we would not buy your client’s product. However, you should be able to identify potential buyers such as spice wholesalers and importers who may show interest in a quality Canadian-grown product.

There is a growing history of acceptance of Canadian-grown herbs and spices by regional buyers over the past decade or so. Caraway, coriander and mustard are three successful crops in Canada now that buyers have come to appreciate the quality of the Canadian product compared to traditional imported material.

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