By Lethbridge Herald on June 23, 2015.
Established eight years ago, API Labs Inc. endeavours to bring commercial poppy production to southern Alberta, and build the first processing facility in Canada. Now that Lethbridge City Council has thrown its unanimous support behind the project, the company is one step closer to making it happen.
On Monday, council agreed to provide a letter of support to Minister of Health Rona Ambrose, which the company hopes will secure legislative and regulatory approval in Ottawa. Copies of the letter will also be provided to Premier Rachel Notley, MP Jim Hillyer, and MLAs Shannon Phillips and Maria Fitzpatrick.
Poppies produce chemicals known as alkaloids that may be used in producing pharmaceuticals, and the poppy seeds themselves offer a valuable commodity, providing a high rate of return for agricultural producers, said API Labs Inc. president Glen Metzler.
They are a source for analgesics, or pain medications, which represent more than 10 per cent of all prescriptions issued in Canada in 2010. With 26 million prescriptions filled every year, it amounts to $500-600 million for the economy, he explained.
Today, Canada imports all of its poppy-derived materials from overseas.
If home-grown, it could mean a new billion-dollar export for the country, a secure source of medications for Canadians, and create hundreds of jobs.
Where we have issues with shortages in Canada, its because were not self-sufficient. So this would be an opportunity for Canada to become a leader in this as opposed to a follower, said Metzler.
Southern Alberta has the ideal climate to grow poppies, yielding more seed pods and less disease due to drier conditions, he said.
API Labs Inc. has been collecting data through field research since 2011, with 30 acres east of Lethbridge.
The company hopes to procure a site for a processing plant within the next six months, and be up and running within 12-18 months. By 2017, they hope to have 2-3,000 hectares.
The first processing plant would be seed production, then with that we would follow with processing at a later date once the regulations have been added.
Metzler said they are receiving promising feedback from the government to proceed. He said the main issue now is to bring awareness of the value and benefits poppy cultivation would bring to the city and surrounding area.
There is a stigma surrounding opiates, he said, with security being a prime concern for RCMP surrounding organized crime. However, he said other countries have developed security processes to model, and that poppies must be processed to get the drug.
Organized crime, theyre not typically interested in going out and harvesting someones wheat and making vodka. If theyre going to target, theyll go for a finished product. We dont see a risk of organized crime being involved in field production at this point.
As they dont make light of security, the company hired a former chief superintendent of the RCMP to be in charge of it.
We agree there is a potential for diversion in any industry. We currently process narcotic medications in Canada and we have for 40 years. Theres never been a diversion that were aware of thats happened in Canada.