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Canadian Science Policy Centre | Panel 303 - What's on the menu? Science-based: policies to address new agri-food realities

Panel 303 - What's on the menu? Science-based: policies to address new agri-food realities

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

What's on the menu? Science-based policies to address new agri-food realities

Organized by: University of Guleph

Speakers: Professor Mary Buhr, Dean and Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan; Professor Maria Corradini, Professor of Food Science, University of Massachusetts; Dr. Bettina Hamelin, President & CEO, Ontario Genomics; Dr. Deb Stark, Former Deputy Minister of Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs; board member, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute

Moderator: Dr. Malcolm Campbell, Vice-President of Research, University of Guelph

Takeaways and recommendations

The context of Canadian agriculture

  • The majority of people in Canada almost 50 years ago had a direct understanding of the value chain of food and how it got on their plates. They had a relationship with the primary producer. Then, productivity levels were low.

  • Today, there is a more distant relationship even between the farmer and the agriculture, due to the use of technology which increased productivity.

  • Consumers have a much lower understanding of how that food got to their table.

  • Canada is the 5th largest exporter of agricultural products.

How technology is used in agriculture

  • Farmers practice “precision agriculture”. It is how producers are managing their thousands-of-hectare farms. For example:

    • Farmers use variable rate cropping through seeding and fertilizing based on data about their land.

    • Technology supports disease/pest management, irrigation techniques, better decision making, waste management, improved profits, better ecological health.

  • Up-and-coming technologies include:

    • The use of satellites to detect subsurface moisture, identify soil microbes, characterize soil profiles, and more.

    • Big data that can be used to predict ideal phytogenetics for soil, climate, terrain and end use. What crops are ideally suited for this land?

  • No industry is a greater user of big data than agriculture.

Genomics in agriculture

  • Genomics innovations play a role across the entire food value chain.

  • Genomics are used to increase the amount of milk a cow produces, an animal’s immunity, the health of animals, etc.

  • We want to buy food we can afford, that is safe, has no spots and tastes great.

  • Genomics can help make plants resistant to pathogens, while at the same time allowing the plant to focus on growing large fruits/vegetables.

  • Genomics innovations in the future may include: calves with no horns, apples that don’t brown, etc.

Food packaging

  • We are moving toward active packaging, which includes components to enhance and prolong the shelf life of food.

  • The introduction of bioplastics and biodegradable packaging are up-and-coming.

  • Has my food gone bad? Open labeling (static), is what we do now; quality/safety attributes in real time (dynamic), is coming in the future. This innovation will have high implications for safety, reduce waste, and allow people to consume products at their peak shelf life.

  • Biodegradable electronics will help in assessing the remaining shelf life of food.

The future of Canadian agriculture

  • Historically, agriculture policy has been about economics: to create wealth in a sustainable manner.

  • Participants argue they need science and technology as fast or faster than our competitors to compete successfully.

  • Regulators continue to hear that their decisions aren’t science-based, and that they never go fast enough.

  • According to the Centre for Food Integrity, less than half of Canadians think their food system is headed in the right direction.

  • In 2017, Canadians provided input on a potential Food Policy for Canada. This may change the conversation about agriculture.

  • What’s next? Citizens will be part of the discussion. It is not a case of growth at any cost.

  • Fundamental tension: Food production is about technology, but food is about culture and values, and that makes for an uneasy relationship.