Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 12 - Evidence - Meeting of March 6, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
5:35 p.m. to examine and report on research and innovation efforts in the
agricultural sector. (topic: How to support innovation with regulations,
information and science from the point of view of science professionals.)
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) is in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I call this meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry to order.
Senator Robichaud: I would like to move a motion so I can have it
passed now that we have a majority on this side.
The Chair: Dr. Murphy, they call that "democracy. "
Thank you, honourable senators. I welcome you to this meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
I would like to thank the witnesses for taking us up on our invitation.
We are honoured to have them here.
The order of reference we have is to develop new markets domestically and
internationally; enhancing agricultural sustainability; improving food
diversity, security and life cycle; and research and development.
I am Senator Percy Mockler from New Brunswick, chair of the committee. At
this time, I would like to ask each senator to introduce themselves.
Senator Mercer: My name is Terry Mercer and I am a senator from
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud from New Brunswick.
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.
Senator Mahovlich: Frank Mahovlich from Ontario.
Senator Plett: Don Plett from Manitoba.
Senator Champagne: Andrée Champagne from Quebec.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.
Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard from Quebec.
The Chair: Thank you.
Witnesses, the committee is continuing its study on research and
innovation efforts in the agricultural sector.
The purpose of today's meeting is to understand how to encourage
innovation through regulations, information and science from the point of
view of science professionals.
Honourable senators, today we have as witnesses Dr. Maria Derosa,
Associate Professor, Chemistry, Carleton University.
We have with us Dr. Bruce Murphy, professor and director of the Centre
for Animal Reproduction Research in the Department of Veterinary Biomedicine
at Laval University.
We also have Dr. Lianne Dwyer, Vice President, Agricultural Institute of
Thank you for appearing and accepting our invitation. I would now invite
each witness to make a presentation, starting with Dr. Derosa, to be
followed by Dr. Murphy and then Dr. Dwyer. Presentations are approximately
five to eight minutes long and will be followed by questions from the
Please go ahead, Dr. Derosa.
Maria Derosa, Associate Professor, Chemistry, Carleton University:
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. I am happy to speak to you
I will give you a bit of background about me. I am not an agricultural
researcher, per se. I am in the chemistry department at Carleton University
and my research is about nanotechnology and bionanotechnology. The idea of
biosensing is really what my research is all about. However, some of the
work I am doing has as end users the agricultural community, so I think that
is why I am here to speak today.
I understand this committee is interested broadly in issues like
agricultural sustainability, food security and food safety. I can speak to
some of these issues and to innovation in general. That is what I will do
I will start with the work we are doing in our lab to give you an idea of
what I can bring to the table. Then I will give my opinions on innovation in
In terms of food safety, our group is developing simple and rapid
biosensors that we would like to use for the detection of mycotoxins, which
are mould toxins that can be present in cereals. We are interested in
developing them such that they could be used at the farm or the grain
elevator. This is an example of agricultural research going on in our group.
Also, we have been collaborating with people at University of Ottawa to
develop biosensors for the testing of norovirus in the meat production
chain, again a food safety related topic.
In terms of agricultural sustainability — I think the main reason I was
invited here today — we are interested in using nanotechnology to improve
the efficiency of crop nutrient delivery. We are interested in improving
We have been having a fruitful collaboration between our laboratory and
Dr. Carlos Monreal's laboratory at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. We have
been working on something we call intelligent fertilizers — fertilizers that
can be tailored to the crop such that they deliver nutrients on demand.
He and I are working to form a centre of research at Carleton University,
and I can give you more information about that later, related to innovation
in nano-fertilizers, crop health and food security.
I will start with a story about how this research began in my group. That
may help me lead into why I think innovation may be challenging and what we
can do to help innovation in agriculture, because it is a unique sector.
My research is primarily related to biosensing. If someone were to tell
me five years ago that I would be working on fertilizer, I would have said
there is no way that that is something of interest to me. I am interested in
biosensing. My work will be applied to things like medicine and drug
It was not until I had a conversation with Dr. Carlos Monreal that I
learned about some of the issues that are plaguing agriculture today. One of
them is the lack of efficiency of fertilizers. I had no idea about this.
Fifty to 70 per cent of fertilizer — nitrogen, for example — applied to
crops is actually not taken up by the crop at all. It is lost to the air, to
water and other processes. All this wasted nitrogen is a severe economic
issue for farmers — it is not going into their crop yields — but it is also
an environmental problem. I knew there were issues with fertilizers but I
had no idea of the level of the problem.
When Dr. Monreal asked me what I would do to make a smart fertilizer,
something able to deliver nutrients on demand to a crop, I said that this to
me sounds like drug delivery. This sounds like a problem I am already
working on: how do you deliver a therapeutic to a diseased tissue and not a
healthy tissue? In the same way, how do we deliver nutrients to a crop when
it needs it and not when it does not need it?
I had no idea that there were these parallels, that work that I was doing
in a very different field could be used as an innovation in agriculture.
Given this background, I can comment a little bit about issues in
innovation in agriculture. I do not have sweeping recommendations by any
means, but maybe just some examples from my own experience, which could lead
to discussion that could help you.
The theme of my comments revolves around this idea that innovation can be
uncomfortable. It can be uncomfortable for researchers, for funding
agencies, for end users such as farmers, for example, and for the general
If we want to find ways to enhance innovation in a sector, particularly
agriculture, we have to address that discomfort. It does not mean we have to
take it away, but we have to at least address it.
Speaking from a researcher's point of view, innovation can be
uncomfortable for us. We want to work on problems of interest to society, we
want to make a difference, but it may be challenging for us to tackle issues
in fields in which we have no expertise. The idea of me working on
agricultural issues and bringing my ideas to act as innovations in
agriculture makes me uncomfortable because I am not an expert in
Why is that making me and other researchers uncomfortable? If we work in
fields outside of our expertise, this could limit our productivity. This may
limit our opportunity for tenure and funding opportunities if we do not
produce right away. We may not be able to publish as quickly.
Those issues are roadblocks for me to be an innovator in agriculture. How
can we address them? That is a difficult question to answer.
I do not want to take away from my bread and butter research to do
something innovative somewhere else if I will suffer as a result. This is
something we have to think about. How can we challenge the best and
brightest minds in research to focus on agricultural problems?
There are a few things we can do. First, we need to make these problems
in agriculture more widely known. I consider myself well read and that sort
of thing but I did not have any idea about these issues in fertilizer until
they were brought to me by Dr. Monreal.
There may be a need to change the image of agricultural research to some
extent. Again, researchers who are bright and have great ideas may not
realize that there are complex, compelling issues in agriculture that they
can contribute to.
For me, anyway, there was the perception that agriculture maybe is not
where exciting new innovations are coming to fruition. We think of medicine
and drugs, not fertilizers and pesticides.
Maybe we need to work on the image we are presenting to the general
public and also to researchers, if you want the best people on those
Innovation can be uncomfortable to funding agencies. As a researcher, I
need to get funding to do my research. This comes from traditional funding
agencies primarily, from the provinces to a certain extent and entities such
as NSERC, which is one place we get our funding. Typically, current funding
mechanisms, although they try not to, do tend to favour incremental
research, not bold new innovative research because many times these big new
ideas do not come with all the proof of concept data that established work
may have already. It may be riskier if you try to apply an idea to a field
that has never seen that sort of thing before. Some funding agencies can be
risk averse, and that trickles down to the researcher. We are less likely to
try to do work in these other fields if we know we will not get the funding
to do it.
There is a need for seed funding for some of these high-risk, potentially
high-benefit endeavours. It does not necessarily have to come primarily from
the government but it should be a discussion among industry, universities
and the government. That may play a role here as well.
The last group of people this innovation may be uncomfortable for is the
farmers, and also the community at large.
Because we are focusing on agriculture, we need to be able to engage the
farmer in any research that we will be doing from the beginning, because at
the end, if the farmer does not see the potential or the value of that work,
it will be a waste of time and money.
By the same token, because we are dealing with food, if the general
public is not receptive to our ideas, all this time and energy will be
If we push for bold new ideas in agriculture, we have to engage farmers
and the general public from the beginning and make sure they are on board.
You can use the example of genetically modified food — all that science and
research that went into genetically modified organisms, but the general
public is not ready to accept that idea yet.
Comparing that to nanotechnology, which is part of my work, if I spend
years of effort to bring nanotechnology to food and fertilizers but the
general public in the end will not be accepting, that could be a problem.
I wanted to summarize the idea that there is the need to address these
different groups of people. If you want to make agriculture the focus of
some intense innovation that will be coming from these bright minds, you
have to address these issues, and maybe this can spark a discussion between
us all here to come up with some solutions.
The Chair: Thank you. Dr. Murphy, please.
Dr. Bruce Murphy, Professor and Director, Center for Animal
Reproduction Research, Department of Veterinary Biomedicine, University of
Montreal: Thank you for inviting me to appear before your committee. My
knowledge of French is not perfect, but I will start with it and then switch
First off, the chair said that I am from Laval University, but I must
correct you; I am from the veterinary medicine department at the University
I am a seasoned researcher. I have been in the business for a number of
years and I have seen the problems and issues. I want to bring to your
attention that there are numerous examples in all the provinces where
research and innovation have been the engine that has driven advances in
agriculture. You can think of the discovery, for instance, of the genetic
work on the Prairies with canola, which provided a new crop and oil by
geneticists. Milk and egg production has increased. Soil science has
improved the things we do.
Research has been the engine of advance in agriculture for many years,
particularly over the last 100 years.
We can predict from demographics that the world in 2050 — which is not
that far away — 38 years from now, we will have 9 billion people and they
will require a 70 per cent increase in the amount of food we now produce.
There will be more demand for milk, for meat and we will have to do this
with less water, and less land. We really need innovation at this time to
have a secure food supply.
Canada has a long, and I think glorious, history in agriculture research
— not only in canola and other areas — and some funding programs which I
think are extremely useful to us who do work in agricultural research.
One of the programs that has been wonderful is the Canadian Foundation
for Innovation, which has provided infrastructural support, equipment,
equipment clusters, has done renovations and allowed us to modernize our
laboratories over the last 10 years.
The Canada Research Chairs program has been excellent as well because it
provided us with the opportunity to get very good people who then can
dedicate a lot of their time to research.
A number of other programs have been useful, like the NSERC CREATE
Program, a training program that allows us to attract the young people early
in their university careers and get them into research.
Other programs that are useful — not as useful — include a cluster
program whereby industry prescribes the kind of research that agriculture
Canada can do. This is an excellent program in some respects because it
provides the opportunity to have the end user decide what research will be
However, in my view it ends up with short term solutions; somebody has a
particular problem, the research is done on that particular problem and does
not give a global long-term interaction.
There are other kinds. People in my group have funded studies of
ovulation in dairy cows through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research
and that program has been somewhat useful as well.
Before we had the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of
Canada, NSERC had two programs which were extremely useful. One was a
strategic grants program and they had a goal in agriculture.
They had an agriculture component.
A number of things — including some of the work I will talk about today,
including cloning — were done under the auspices of that program.
NSERC no longer has a focus in their strategic program, their university
industry program or in their Frontiers program on agriculture. I believe
that is a shame that it needs to be addressed.
They now have three or four major goals and have simply eliminated the
whole agricultural community. I think that is very useful. What do I think
What do we need now?
I believe what we need is a multidisciplinary, multi-year program that
would fund projects, like team grants, to allow for a wide range of
disciplines to focus on a single problem. There are many problems I can
think of, but I have one example for you which I think is recurrent and
important. I would like to bring it to your attention at this point.
One of the great innovations of the twentieth century in agriculture was
artificial insemination, whereby we can do more selection of many species,
beef cattle and dairy cattle. Later in the century pigs became subject to
this technology, which is very useful. I think in dairy cattle it had the
The average production of milk per cow per year in 1945 was about 3,000
litres. This year it is 7,500 litres and elite cattle can produce as much as
10,000 litres of milk in a year. This has been an enormous advance allowed
by innovation technology.
It has had a down side. With increased milk production there has been a
decrease in fertility. At this point, adult pregnancy rate in lactating
dairy cows is about 35 per cent, which is not very high. This has enormous
consequences and one is simply cost to the farmer. He has to keep more cows
to produce the same milk because, obviously, a cow only produces milk when
she produces a calf. In order to keep these lactation cycles going they have
to produce calves every year, and if the cows are infertile and producing
fewer calves, that is expensive.
The optimal number of lactations for a cow during her lifetime is
somewhere between 4 and 4.5 of the 365 day cycles, but that has declined
over the years to about three.
In England, it is 2.8. It is even more than that.
More frequent replacement of cattle means larger herds, and they are more
expensive. There is another important consequence of that. Cows produce
environmental contaminants of a number of kinds, but one of the important
ones is a by-product of rumination, when the cow takes grass, ferments it in
her stomach and produces protein from that and feeds herself. Glucose and
other things come from that fermented substance. The by-product is methane.
Methane is a greenhouse gas. It is 20 times more affective as a greenhouse
gas than CO2.
In addition, a by-product of feeding cows high-protein diets is the
production of ammonia, which is important in greenhouse gas.
At current conception rate, a 100-cow herd produces 15.8 tonnes of
methane per year, and these are figures from the U.K. Increasing fertility
from 38 per cent to 65 per cent would reduce methane production by that herd
to about 11 tonnes of methane per year, which is an enormous reduction of 30
per cent. There would be similar reductions in ammonia as well. Things are
Is a reproductive success rate of 35 per cent biologically possible? It
is. The problem we see is in adult cattle. If we look at first calf heifers
when they are bred the first time, we see success rates of between 55 and 65
per cent. It is biologically possible. What do we do? How can we attack this
I propose a funding mechanism whereby we could have a multidisciplinary
approach to address the issue. For instance, we could look at nutrition,
reproductive biology, and genetics. The advances in that field are enormous.
It cost $500 million to sequence the first human genome and you can now do
it for $10,000. The advances in genomics are enormous.
We can use these advances to address this problem. We can in fact start
to select cows not only for milk production, but also for fertility. We can
use next generation genetics to do this.
Transgenesis: Dr. Lawrence Smith in my group cloned the first large
animal clones in Canada. One was a bull by the name of Starbuck and is well
known not for coffee, but because the original Starbuck is represented in
over 300,000 genomes in dairy cattle around the world.
Starbuck 2 is a clone which has the same genetic information as Starbuck.
However, one of the problems we have — and Dr. Derosa alluded to it — is
that the gametes — the semen — from Starbuck are not on the market yet
because of the resistance to using cloned animals and products of cloned
animals that are getting into the food chain. That is a bit of an issue. A
transgenic pig has been developed by the University of Guelph which has the
enzyme phytase, which quite drastically reduces the toxicity of the manure
products in these animals. These animals cannot enter the food chain. A lot
of money and effort has gone into producing these transgenics and producing
the material, which so far have not made the translation into where they are
actually being used.
As I say, I can see the potential for a multidisciplinary program of
nutrition, reproduction, toxicology, genetics, epidemiology, behavioural
science, management science and even the sociology of farming could all be
put into a large program that could allow us to attack this one particular
problem. It is not the only problem we can attack like this.
For instance, we can attack environmental contamination problems, which
are very important not only to humans but also in agriculture. We can use
multidisciplinary approaches to attack those. Disease management is very
important. We know now that certain diseases such as swine flu and some of
the poultry viruses can jump back and forth between humans and require large
kill-offs of animals.
You may remember in British Columbia, three or four years ago, virtually
all the chickens in the Lower Mainland had to be killed because of a virus.
That kind of problem is amenable to a multidisciplinary, multi-year
approach, but we need to have a five-year funding and the capacity to
attract and integrate people from a variety of areas.
Meat quality is another good example. The environmental impact of animal
agriculture is an important aspect of sustainability. Antibiotic resistance
is another example. These are all kinds of problems that have important
agricultural ramifications that I believe could be addressed in a
multidisciplinary program like this.
Lianne Dwyer, Vice President, Agricultural Institute of Canada:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Agricultural
Institute of Canada. Like my colleague, I think I would be easier to
understand in English.
I would like to speak on behalf of all of our members who come from all
parts of Canada.
The Agricultural Institute of Canada was founded back in 1920 and today
represents individual agricultural professionals. It includes research
scientists like my colleagues and also consultants — people who communicate
the results of research to the industry. As well, the institute represents
major scientific societies with an interest in the agricultural sciences.
These societies include the Canadian Society of Agronomy, the Canadian
Society of Soil Science, the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science and
the Canadian Society of Animal Science. Collectively, the Agricultural
Institute of Canada represents over 1,500 science professionals. My
challenge is to try to communicate to you some of the passion that these
people have and their interest in this important subject that you are
It is appropriate that AIC's longest history with agricultural
professionals is related to a most important current function and that is
the communication and transfer of research and innovations to others in the
industry. The Agricultural Institute of Canada began publishing agricultural
research way back in 1921 and in the 1950s expanded to three scientific
journals: The Journal of Animal Science, the Journal of Plant
Science and the Journal of Soil Science and Environmental Management.
The journals, which are produced in cooperation with the scientific society
members, published a combined total of almost 3,000 pages of peer-reviewed
research in 2011. They are read in more than 100 countries. It is their very
purpose to publish research findings that will help address many of the
challenges facing our society that Dr. Murphy has mentioned, including food
security, climate change, both mitigation and adaptation that I know you
have talked about in this committee; energy demand and the bio-economy;
links between human and animal health, quality food and feed, and the
conservation of our soil, water, air and biodiversity resources.
The January 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Soil Science is
a special issue on land reclamation, which is a growing challenge nationally
and internationally. Our international development work with the institute
has provided us with direct evidence of the stark realities of food
shortages. Food security does not mean as much until you have actually seen
what it is to have insufficient food, to talk to people who speak of having
a 9-month supply of food, a 10- month supply of food and to be aiming at a
12-month supply of food.
Today nearly 1 billion people are food impoverished. Many millions more
have dietary deficiencies, with consumption of low levels of essential
proteins, minerals and vitamins resulting from restricted or insufficient
diets. This impoverishment will double in the next 15 years with the
predictions for population that we have, because the population is growing
in areas least capable of supporting agricultural expansion.
As mentioned, the world population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050.
Globally, food production will need to increase by at least 50 per cent to
keep up with population growth. As emerging populations become more
affluent, they are turning from diets based on grains to greater meat
consumption. They do not want to live on corn and rice, and meat requires
feed in the form of grains and forage. The conversion ratios to meat is
somewhere between 2 kilograms and 10 kilograms of grain required for every
kilogram of meat. It increases the demand and pressure on the land base.
In addition, with increased meat production, there are increased
environmental stresses associated with the disposal of waste, the
consumption of water and the production of greenhouse gases, to which you
have alluded. There are also major post-harvest losses of crops and produce
around the world. Every ton of preserved produce will contribute to food
security. It is a significant loss.
Canada has a reputation for environmentally sustainable production of
safe food and feed. Canadian researchers have made and will continue to make
significant contributions to food sufficiency in rural areas around the
world. The area of arable land in Canada and globally is static. We are not
growing more land. Marginal lands are marginal for a reason. Usually it is
insufficient nutrients, drainage, topography or rocky texture. Northern
Canadian soils will never be highly productive because of physical and
chemical limitations. With population growth and arable land static, the
amount of land for food production on a per capita basis is currently going
down and it will continue to decrease.
In 2050, the amount of land will have declined to 1.6 hectares per person
to feed the world's population. Compare that with 2 hectares per person in
2005 and 5.2 hectares per person in 1950. We are putting more and more
demand on the arable land. More staple food crops will have to be produced
on less land. Currently, four billion people survive primarily on corn,
wheat and rice. Other staple crops are potatoes, cassava, soybean, sweet
potatoes, sorghum, millet and grain. However, that is not a diverse diet.
Around the world, people aim to have a more diverse diet than that.
Climate change and climate variability will exacerbate the challenge of
food production and issues relating to food security. An increase in average
growing season temperature of 2 degrees centigrade can reduce yields of rice
in tropical regions by 20 per cent. These people are aiming at food
sufficiency now, and this will make that more of a challenge.
Higher temperatures result in increased water use by plants. Higher
temperatures result in shifts in pest pressure. For example, we see soybean
rust coming into Canada through the United States that started in South
America. As temperatures rise, we will face some of these threats.
The interaction between the decrease in arable land and climate change
will put enormous pressures on agricultural production because in most areas
climate change will ultimately have negative effects on crop yields. Canada
may be more fortunate with an increase in temperature resulting in a longer
growing season on our productive prairies, however problems associated with
the effects of heat stress on yield are usually associated with higher
temperatures, certainly for crops like canola.
Major rivers are fed from mountain glaciers which are rapidly receding.
This will result in reduced river flow in Asia, Europe, North America and
South America. Much of the geological water stored in aquifers has been
depleted by irrigation already. Climate change will cause shifts in rainfall
patterns, resulting in droughts and floods.
Another part of the scenario is that farming can be detrimental to soils.
It reduces organic matter content, which changes nutrient cycling. Farming
can result in increased erosion, salinity and sodicity, which is the
increased sodium when the chlorine has been washed out, which also results
in increased erosion and lower nutrient exchange capacity.
Soil can become contaminated with detrimental substances like cadmium,
which is a by-product of super phosphate fertilizer, an industrial
pollutant. The bottom line is that farming flourishes on healthy soil and
maintenance of healthy soil under intensive production has, to this time,
been a product of long-term research. It is a continual updating and an
adjustment to the current situation.
The public is also very much more aware of the environment and the causes
of environmental problems. Evidence has pointed to agriculture in cases such
as the Walkerton tragedy, which was caused by poor manure management
practices, or the phosphate fertilizer loading in Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba.
The public will demand that the environmental footprint of agriculture be as
small as possible. It is an ongoing goal.
These factors make it clear that in the next few years we will need to
dramatically increase agricultural production. This is particularly true as
more and more arable land is lost to expansion of our cities. Our production
systems will become increasingly dependent on water, healthy soils,
fertilizers, pesticides and more efficient plant genetics. We will also need
to be as environmentally neutral as possible. Research from the past will
not suffice as these circumstances and stresses have never occurred before.
Research will be required in all aspects of our food production value chain
to guard Canada's own food security.
The success of Canadian agriculture in supplying us with safe,
nutritious, abundant and inexpensive food for the past 125 years and more
has been largely due to the investment the federal and provincial
governments have made in agricultural research. This is not discounting the
monumental work that farmers put into growing the food that sustains us. As
I think many of you know, farming is not an easy business, nor is it one for
faint-hearted souls unwilling to gamble on the next innovation.
The predominant form of government investment in agricultural research
has been made in research stations across the country, in university
programs and in the research scientists that these institutions employ.
However, over the past 20 years, publicly supported agricultural research
in the western world has steadily decreased. Our own federal government
science and technology strategy does not even identify agriculture and food
as areas for research and development through its research funding programs.
As an example, the number of scientists employed by Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada is less than 50 per cent of what it was in 1992. Provincial
governments have reduced their staff, often cutting research out entirely or
shifting it to the university system. Universities with agricultural
programs have reduced their staff. At present there are only two Canadian
universities left that have a soil science department.
Farm productivity has continued to increase, certainly since the
mid-1990s, but there is growing evidence that the rate of increase in farm
yields is slowing. There is always a lag between innovation and application
in agricultural research, just as there is in other areas of research, and
farm production is catching up to the reduction in agricultural research.
We would argue that agricultural research and decisions on research
priorities are increasingly being dictated by the interests of private,
for-profit companies. A-based or direct funding of research is drying up.
For federal government scientists, many must now find funding from companies
that will financially support their work or undertake research projects that
the companies consider a priority. These priorities are strongly oriented to
short-term, profit-making ventures.
What is being lost is long-term, basic public-good research, research
that can be made freely available to all producers in Canada. Companies
would not, for example, have invested in cold-tolerant corn and soybean
research in Canada 35 years ago because there is limited acreage. There
would be no soybean and corn in eastern Ontario and Quebec today, because
that was a monumental effort to make those grow in our shorter growing
seasons. There would not have been 350,000 acres of soybean grown in
Manitoba in 2011.
The dissemination of research findings to producers is also critical and
is increasingly being lost. Both federal and provincial governments have
virtually eliminated extension departments and staff. Travel budget
restrictions are so onerous that most scientists are unable to participate
in meetings and conferences at which they could share their research, and
particularly share with producers and processors in the country.
The idea that research is available internationally that could be
applicable to Canada is attractive but we will still need experts who have
done research in the field to apply that knowledge to Canadian conditions.
We will never be able to buy state-of-the-art research, but only last year's
If the Canadian brand of sustainably produced, safe, quality food and
feed is to be maintained, Canada needs its own balanced research capacity to
carry out long-term, public-good knowledge generation as well as the
short-term, mission-oriented, profit-driven research.
When budgets are tight, it is particularly important that there be
coordination of research. Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada has recently
proposed, through its Science Scan project, to develop a database of
research and development activities in the agriculture sector in Canada. As
AAFC notes in its documentation, research and innovation are needed for
continued progress and productivity in the agricultural, agri-food and
agri-based product sector. However, complete baseline information on
research activities and science capacity in the sector is not available. Its
functions are critical: to identify strategic strengths and weaknesses,
opportunities and threats; to identify strategic gaps; to ensure funding and
development support are better coordinated and that duplicative efforts are
avoided; and to facilitate strategic alliances and collaborations.
Research partnerships are increasingly critical to maintaining an
effective research capacity. Rate of return on investment dollars is
important to both public and private research partners. Historically,
publicly funded research has focused on public good, where the return to
investors is longer term and not easily captured.
However, a 2007 analysis by the Canadian Agriculture Innovation Research
Network calculated returns averaging 30 to 50 per cent on public funding — a
good ratio in today's market. Development of canola, as has been mentioned,
as a food crop is an interesting case study. The original funding was almost
entirely from public sources, but current funding is predominantly from the
private sector. Public money is needed to go in to make initial
developments, and then private money takes over because they are the experts
at bringing it to market and diversifying.
Although many crops owe their origin to federally funded research, more
recent developments include research from provincial and international
public institutions, with funding including producer and industry
check-offs. With the creation of plant breeders' rights, the private sector
has made significant investments in crop research and patents now given on
biotech processes to develop new varieties, as has been mentioned, to
further increase payback to the private- sector investment. As a result,
there is increasing private sector involvement and new roles, and that means
new roles and relationships for public research.
In summary, there are three general comments and recommendations we would
like to make.
First, that effective research requires stable funding, and decisions on
research funding need the perspectives of both public and private sectors.
Historically, agricultural research investment has provided a remarkably
high return, up to 50 per cent, but there is a continual need to evaluate
the best return on investment. This requires a coordination of research
effort to ensure there is no duplication and that there is adequate effort
available. The other consideration is that a balance is maintained between
the shorter-term interests of the private sector and the longer-term public
good. This is particularly true of research related to conservation of
natural resources — soil, water, air, biodiversity — and innovations that
will be utilized without direct compensation to the developer.
Neither public nor private perspective alone can effectively allocate
research funding. While it is not effective to have public research
institutions deciding on the best allocation of budgets to meet the
country's needs without input from the private sector, it is also not
effective to have research funding allocated based only on the private
sector's shorter- term goals.
The pendulum has swung too far toward short-term private sector goals and
a balance needs to be re-established.
The Chair: Ms. Dwyer, would you please perhaps wrap up because of
the time frame?
Ms. Dwyer: I have two short points remaining.
Canada has a reputation for safe food and quality animal and cereal
products produced in an environmentally- sustainable manner. Canadian
agricultural researchers participate in the global scientific community and,
as participants, have direct and timely access to innovations potentially
beneficial to Canada's production and processing systems.
This position is a result of long-term investment in agricultural
research. Continuing investment is needed to maintain Canada's competitive
advantage. The need for Canadian researchers to communicate with other
scientists and with the rests of the agricultural sector has never been
greater. It is important that impediments to communicating research results
with scientific colleagues and with producers and other industry
stakeholders be removed and that the transfer of innovation to users is a
We also support the recommendations made to you by Richard Phillips of
the Grain Growers of Canada on October 25 that would allow all royalty
streams generated by institutions to be added to the budgets of those
institutions. They also had some other suggestions and models to put more
money into research through farm group check-offs and tax credits that will
encourage more use of new products.
Producers, private industry and governments should all contribute to
supporting research and innovation.
Senator Plett: I have a few questions for Ms. Dwyer. I was
starting to feel sorry for myself and our country here during that
presentation. All is not lost, I do not think. I think that we are in better
shape than what you presented, but maybe we are not.
Ms. Dwyer: I did not mean to tell it that way.
The Chair: Please wait for the question.
Ms. Dwyer: Yes, I will.
Senator Plett: My question is based around the comments that you
made about private, for-profit corporations taking all the researchers,
short-term gains, and so on. I thought private investment was the direction
that we wanted to go in. If I misunderstood, then please correct me on that
but I understood you to say that you did not want private, for-profit
companies grabbing the researchers; that they should be taken up by the
public, rather. Is that not what you said?
Ms. Dwyer: I am sorry. I was not clear, then. No.
There needs to be a balance of publicly- and privately-funded research.
We certainly want increased privately- funded research, absolutely. If you
look at the statistics — and this is true throughout the Western World —
agricultural research is dominated by public funding, and the interest is in
sharing that more and more.
What I said was that the decisions on where the capacity within the
country will reside — what the research capacity will be — needs to address
not just what the companies want, which tends to be mission oriented and
shorter term — it requires expertise but it tends to mine the existing
expertise; it needs to generate a profit in a relatively short period of
If all of our research effort is aimed at those shorter-term goals, we
will not have the capacity or the people to address the issues, whether we
are talking about environmental issues; the maintenance of our
soil/water/air resources, which we are lucky to have but which are not
indestructible; even research for farmers and management practices — all
these kinds of basic things where you cannot readily recoup your investment
because you have no way to control that investment. That has traditionally
been the role of public institutions because they put it out and it is for
My point was not that we do not want to see industry invest or that we do
not want Canadians working within the industry context.
Senator Plett: If I could go further, one of your recommendations
was that you need stable funding.
Ms. Dwyer: Longer term — five years.
Senator Plett: Either witness can respond. If we are talking about
stable funding, what is stable funding and where should it come from?
Ms. Dwyer: I will start and Dr. Murphy can finish.
Stable funding should come from the public sector because it is not the
private sector's job. Their job is to develop something specific and to
generate some revenue from that and to move on. The public sector has
maintained the capacity. That has been the history of the last 125-plus
Stable funding just means that you can predict what you hope to achieve
within 18, 24, or 36 months. To say you have funding for that length of time
and then you have zero balance and will start all over again, you cannot
maintain a scientific capacity that way. Stable funding means that.
Senator Plett: However, in order to receive results, do we not
need to have to say end times and demand that results can be shown by that
Dr. Murphy: The reasons we need stable funding are, first, in an
established scientific system, we train people; we train technicians and
develop equipment — we have high maintenance, important technological
equipment — and we need specialized people to do that. If we do not have
stable funding and if we say, "We cannot guarantee you a salary to run this
microscope for two years — it is anybody's guess what could happen, " then
we lose that person and it does not continue. We need stable funding in that
There are programs in the United States that will fund up to 10 years but
these are usually or generally based on milestones.
Senator Plett: Is that stable — 10 years?
Dr. Murphy: Ten years is quite stable; I would be quite happy with
10 years. I do not know if I will be doing science in 10 years but that is
They are based on milestones. When you develop your project, you say,
"This is the ultimate goal. This is the goal for 2011 until 2013. This is
the goal, et cetera. " Then, at those points, there are people from funding
agencies. In some of the contracts we have had with pharmaceutical
companies, they want to see milestones month by month. They are willing to
commit to a five-year project but they want to see this sort of progress on
this kind of project.
Senator Plett: Progress reports?
Dr. Murphy: Not progress reports but evaluations and decision
points. "Okay, if you get to here, then we will go on to here. " However,
if you do not, some flexibility is required, obviously.
Senator Plett: I have one more question, and either one or both of
you can answer it.
Dr. Murphy talked about the tremendous increases in milk production, for
example, and other things, through genetics and so on. We have also had
those same increases in grains. About 50 years ago, 10 bushels to an acre of
wheat was probably a decent crop. Today, it is — I do not know — 50 or 60.
I agree with you that our land base is not increasing. It might be
decreasing; you suggested that. However, could we not increase our crops by
continuing to do whatever the farmers did to increase from 10 bushels to the
acre to 50 or 60 bushels to the acre and maybe increase that to 120 bushels
to the acre with the right type of research?
That might be a high number, but even 50 years ago the $10 a bushel
farmer did not think his grandson would ever be getting 60.
Dr. Murphy: With genetics and management, again, there is a
break-even point. There is a point of diminishing returns with anything. You
can get rapid genetic gain in any respect with any genetic trait. Most of
the things we are talking about — and milk production is a good example, as
is grain — are multifactorial traits that depend on the interaction of
several genes at once. We are now selecting for what we call phenotypes.
More milk is a phenotype; it is something we want, so we select bulls that
produce calves or cows that produce more milk, but we do not know what else
we are selecting for at the same time.
Anything is possible, but I do not think we can be looking at a 15,000-
or 20,000-litre-a-year cow. It is simply physiologically impossible. You
could not put enough feed in that cow for her to produce that amount of
milk. The metabolic cost would be too great.
We can make more advances. My argument here is that the advance we need
to make is to improve for fertility so we will need fewer cows to produce
the same amount of milk.
Senator Mercer: You said that by 2050 there will be 9 billion
people on earth. Someone else mentioned that we will need to increase food
production by at least 50 per cent. I would have thought we would have to go
higher than that.
Have we reached a crisis situation? 2050 is not that far off. Most of us
will not see 2050, but many people who are alive today will see 2050.
Are we setting ourselves up for a major crisis if we do not invest in the
proper research, in agriculture, in development? Senator Plett talked about
the increase in the grain yield and you talked, Dr. Murphy, about the
increase in the milk yield more than doubling from 1945 to 2012. Much of
that was science-driven. We do not recognize it. Yes, the farmers are more
efficient, but the farmers are more efficient because the science helped
make them more efficient.
Will we have a crisis situation as we look towards 2050, using that as an
Dr. Murphy: Certainly, it is out of my field. If one looks at the
predictions that were made, the U.K. has large think tanks that look at
these demographic changes. Their view is that there is a possibility of
having a crisis occurring well in advance of that time. Probably it will not
occur in this country. We have already seen food crises in Africa and other
places. Often they are supply crises, but there are also climate change
crises as well that cause these issues. These things are happening.
To what extent can we address them with science? We can make advances. We
can change things. We can make grain more efficient. We can make farming and
production of animals more efficient. I do not think we can stem the tide of
population growth, as the ghost of Malthus is upon us.
Senator Mercer: What is the lead time we need from the lab to the
farmers' field to the consumers' table? We are talking years and years.
There is probably no proper answer to the question of what is the average
time. It depends what you are working on, but in a normal cycle with stable
funding that you talked about, how long would you normally think it would be
from the concept, to doing the research, to developing a product or a new
method of production, from the time of that concept to the time the food is
on the consumer's table? Would it be 15 or 20 years?
Dr. Murphy: If we are talking about genomic advances, for
instance, using modern genomic technology, we can find markers that give us
specific traits. You want less fat in meat; you want more fat in meat; you
want more of this or that; those things are possible and they happen
quickly. In fact, just by selection, the amount of fat in pork was, within
10 years, reduced dramatically. This had other impacts, particularly on
fertility and a variety of other things.
If we look at those things with the genomic tools we have, it is my view
that we can discover markers and we can do things more quickly. We can
increase things and have results that would be on the farm within five
We talked about transgenic animals and cloned animals. We have another
barrier, which is, obviously, public acceptance. When it actually gets on
the table is another story.
Senator Champagne: Dr. Murphy, I would first thank you for
reassuring me in the very first sentence that you pronounced here today.
After our chair's introduction, I was going to go home and see a big
hole, and the school of veterinary medicine, the animal pathology laboratory
and the centre for artificial insemination would not be there anymore. I
know that the mayor of Quebec City is flamboyant and ambitious, but moving
the faculty from the University of Montreal to Quebec is a little worrisome
Dr. Murphy: He scares us too.
Senator Champagne: I did not say that he scared me, I said that he
was flamboyant and ambitious. It is not so bad. A few years ago, a hospital
for large animals was opened at this school of veterinary medicine. There is
also a service for small animals.
Dr. Murphy: Good things come from research: the swine reproduction
group and the swine diseases group are very well known and are doing a lot
of research to improve the biosecurity and health of swine herds in Quebec.
Senator Champagne: There are a number of hog houses and large
turkey operations ten kilometres from the faculty. Bird flu could hit. They
do a lot of things at the research centre and you brought up the problem of
From the day we saw Dolly, the first cloned animal, it is clear that
Starbuck was a real the star in the Saint- Hyacinthe region. There has been
an annual agricultural fair in Saint-Hyacinthe for 100 years. People rushed
in to see this animal with unimaginable powers.
You said that it would be difficult to get people to accept food that
would come from a clone of Starbuck.
Dr. Murphy: Yes.
Senator Champagne: What can we do to help? At the time, I know
that people saw dollar signs everywhere. Now, if we cannot sell the product
from a cloned animal, what good is it to invest in research on cloning if no
one gets anything out of it in the end?
Are you sure there is no problem? What can we do to help you convince
people that these animals are not dangerous to our health?
Dr. Murphy: In Canada, it is still illegal to sell products from
cloned animals. It is not a problem in the United States. The matter has
been studied for years, and the practice is entirely legal. It is still
illegal in Canada.
A star bull, like the original Starbuck, is worth over $80 million. That
is the price that the semen is selling at around the world. It is enormous.
There is no problem with Starbuck now. We can collect the sperm and freeze
it. It is available in the freezer and ready to sell. But Canadian laws make
selling it impossible. Perhaps it is time to think about changing the
I think that, here in Canada, we are less opposed to genetically modified
animals. In France, for example, people think that genetically modified
animals are really dangerous. But that is not true at all. It is just a
minor change that means very little. There is no evidence that it poses a
To answer your question, I do not know whether it is more important to
convince the public or to change the legislation.
Senator Champagne: Given that you have the artificial insemination
centre just next door, on the same street, that is why people were seeing
dollar signs everywhere. Everyone wanted to bring their cows there at the
right time and hoped that everything would go well.
Senator Merchant: I have similar questions. We all presume that
the reason for innovation — and the investments that we make in innovation —
are to increase productivity and to lower costs for the producer and also
You just mentioned that most of your Europe, particularly France, is
obsessed about genetically modified grains or meat. Are their food costs
more expensive because they are resisting the genetically modified product?
Dr. Murphy: There are probably a lot of them they do not know
about, because virtually all the yeast used to make bread is genetically
modified all over the world, so people are ingesting things that come from
genetically modified organisms.
I think Ms. Dwyer would be better placed to respond than I, but if I can
think of a good example it is canola, which has been genetically modified to
be able to resist certain pesticides like Roundup. On the prairies, there is
Roundup Ready canola or soybeans and corn, so they can plant them. Then
instead of having to cultivate they can spray round up on their crops and
the crops are now resistant and they continue to thrive and all the weeds
die. It saves water, labour and money. Certainly it is a more efficient
system to do things. I am not sure to what extent people know that the
soybeans and canola that comes from those fields make it into the system,
and I would doubt that it is well known that these actually came from
genetically modified materials. If you have soy sauce or something like
canola oil, would you know? I do not think it is known. It certainly has
Senator Merchant: One kernel of triffid in 10,000 kernels of flax
cost the Canadian economy about a billion dollars a few years ago. It is a
Has the consumer realized savings? Where are these economies that you are
inventing? Who is benefiting from that? If the consumer is not accepting the
end result, and if it is costing the Canadian economy as in this case, was
it Monsanto who benefited from your research? Who is the beneficiary of all
this money that you are asking the government and private enterprise to
Ms. Dwyer: The first beneficiaries of the genetically modified
products so far have been the producers themselves. The producers pay more
for this seed. It is controlled by large companies. It is self serving in
that the companies with the Roundup are also selling you the seeds that are
resistant to it.
The bottom line is that it is a cheaper production system. It saves many
times up and down the field, and the genetics have been added to the best
genetics of the day for corn, soybeans and canola. The majority of the crop
is now genetically modified in North America and the majority of the world
is accepting this. The first beneficiaries are our producers. The first
beneficiaries of the agricultural research historically have been the
producers. It is to keep us competitive on a global scale. We are not the
size of the Midwest U.S. or middle Europe, but we are competitive in the
major commodities that we produce because we have the seed that will grow
well in our environment and the management practices to optimize that.
What does it do for the consumer? The soybean has been an important food
oil. It is relatively cheap. When I started to read labels, I was amazed at
how it is virtually everywhere.
If it were not available at a cheap price, it would be reflected. That is
part of our issue here in Canada and I feel badly that somebody thought I
was trying to portray a dire vision for Canada — not at all.
We have had a lot of advantages in that we have a lot of water, a good
land base, and our food is incredibly cheap. As a proportion of our income,
it is incredibly cheap. I know you talked to the regulatory agency. We have
good regulation, and people are confident that if it passes regulations in
Canada they are getting good food and they are not concerned for their
That is all part of what we are working toward, and that is our goal.
When we ask if it would have been cheaper with GMO soybean than it would
have been without, we do not have the experimental control. We are always
going for the best bang for the buck and certainly, when it is going to the
processer it will not survive if they cannot make money over what already
exists on the shelf.
Senator Merchant: I thought Dr. Murphy said that Canadians have
not accepted genetically modified products, or did I misunderstand?
Dr. Murphy: With respect to the animals, yes. My two examples were
Starbuck, whose semen is not on the market, and the second example being the
Enviropig developed by the University of Guelph which reduces the toxicity
or the environmental contamination by manure. Those animals currently are
being buried. The offspring are being buried. They cannot enter the food
chain. These are not public acceptance issues per se, but they are
governmental regulation issues. They are illegal.
Senator Eaton: I wish to follow up on the genetically modified
aspect of this. I have been looking at the oil sands for the last little
while and we have let the world define Canada environmentally, and then we
are always thrown back into a defensive mode.
We have heard from other members of the agricultural community that GM
seeds or GM products are not popular with Europeans and Africans. They have
been very resistant. Could you not argue that perhaps the scientific
community again reacted too late when people started to push back?
For instance, now Germany does not want Canadian honey if they test it
and the bees have gone into clover from a blueberry plant. Have we not made
our case as Canadians that perhaps to feed the world — the 9 billion people
Senator Mercer is worried about — that we should be looking into more
research into things like GM seeds?
Dr. Murphy: Do you mean the potential nefarious effects?
Senator Eaton: Yes.
Dr. Murphy: In specific response to your question, those are
really sociological issues and not scientific issues.
Senator Eaton: Yes, but it does affect the possible
commercialization of your research, does it not?
Dr. Murphy: I am convinced that the offspring of Starbuck will not
be any different from the offspring of any dairy bull in terms of safety to
enter the food chain.
Senator Eaton: What will it take? Is it ignorance of the
non-scientific community? Is it prejudice? What would it take to show
Dr. Murphy: It is acceptable in the U.S. When the U.S. said that
the offspring of cloned animals could enter the food chain there was a
kerfuffle, there was some pushback, but it was very brief and we do not hear
about it anymore. That is happening now without any problem. I believe it is
a regulatory issue more than any other issue, and I do not think there would
be any problem.
Senator Eaton: Is it regulatory in Canada?
Dr. Murphy: That particular one in animals, yes. In plants, again,
certainly in Canada it is not a problem. I do not think it is a problem and
I am certainly not an expert on agricultural economics, but I do not think
it is a problem with our trading partners: the United States, Asia or in
other places. However, in France it seems to be a major issue.
Senator Eaton: It seems to be a major issue in Germany and they
have certainly got Africa going.
Dr. Murphy: We got on to genetically modified organisms, but there
is a whole lot more in research we can do without genetically modifying
Senator Eaton: To finish on the animals, years ago I was doing
field research for a documentary, Alberta in Transition, and I was
taken to a research station where they were doing a lot of work with
synthetic herds. Obviously it was beef cattle. Does that exist anymore or
have people gone back to thoroughbred herds?
Dr. Murphy: Crossbreeding is probably common there. Certainly
purebred herds exist but crossbreeding provides advantages, particularly
heterosis. When you get more genetic variability you will get better growth,
better feed conversion and a lot of traits, better size and a lot of other
things. When you get purebred herds you often get inbreeding and then you
have problems with recessive genes that can cause a lot of difficulties.
Senator Eaton: Dr. Dwyer, do you have five research priorities for
the next five years which would be uppermost areas that you think you want
Ms. Dwyer: Most research institutions would have theirs. Are you
talking for all of Agriculture?
Senator Eaton: Does Canada, as part of its agricultural policy,
have areas that would give money to some universities? Do you do that or
Ms. Dwyer: It is done in Canada. The granting agencies review
those priorities regularly and the federal Department of Agriculture has its
priorities, as well as the universities. The agricultural universities
across the country are trying to coordinate. There are major issues that we
are working on and will not go away in the next five years.
Senator Eaton: Such as?
Ms. Dwyer: The relationship between diet and health; agriculture
and health interaction. Again, the federal government moves on these things
pretty effectively, but in the Department of Health, PHAC and Agriculture
Canada there are joint projects ongoing. There is everything from looking at
dietary causes of some of the major diseases of middle and old age, to being
able to make health claims for certain foods — oats, for example, being able
to lower your cholesterol — to determine exactly the advantage of oats or,
as another example, isoflavones in soybeans. Many things are in the pipeline
that are related to functional foods, thinking of food, so that is an area.
I do not think we can avoid climate change. It is important to Canada. We
are luckier than some countries and, as I said, maybe it will be a benefit
to the Prairies. However, the point is that there will need to be adaptation
to change that is coming perhaps faster than we thought. Certainly the
fluctuation in precipitation principally is something that genetic
improvement is aiming to address. The conditions that are predicted require
adapting genetics for climate change and perhaps diversifying crops in some
Senator Eaton: Is it just good farm practice to teach people to
diversify their crops?
Ms. Dwyer: Probably. That is what we say when we go
internationally, to not put all your eggs into one basket and look at
developing alternative markets.
This is where the public-private partnership is really important. All of
the genomics, the metabolomics and the neutrigenomics are incredibly
expensive. We talked about the importance of regulation. Public money does
not get anything through the regulatory system. It is private money that
does that; the first Roundup Ready variety, all the varieties that are going
In order to continue to adapt, whether plant or animal, we need to use
all these tools. We would be crazy to turn our backs on metabolomics or
genomics because there is some resistance.
I do not want to diverge, but it is hard to say there is zero risk to
anything and that is what some people are asking for. Science quantifies the
risk, and what it has shown is that there is no significant quantifiable
risk for the genetically modified organisms we are using in the food chain
now. That may not satisfy. We are still looking at environmental issues,
what are the outcrossings, what potential monsters could we be creating in
weeds or other outcrosses, but nothing has been demonstrated.
Senator Mahovlich: Would changing the name of Starbuck to Tim
Horton help? It is very Canadian.
Ms. Dwyer: It is.
Dr. Murphy: Does a hockey player's name have any benefit?
Senator Mahovlich: Very much so, especially in Canada.
For our young students in Canada now, is farming becoming more attractive
to them? It seems more complicated than it ever was to my understanding.
Ms. Dwyer: The small farms are disappearing.
Senator Mahovlich: Is it corporations that are moving in?
Ms. Dwyer: Yes, you have larger farms, large families, maybe
Senator Mahovlich: We are not making it attractive. There will be
a demand in, you say, 50 years, but we are not making it attractive for our
Ms. Dwyer: With the investment that a farmer makes, compared to
the investment a small businessman would make and the return he expects, you
have to have a certain amount of passion.
Senator Mahovlich: You have to be wealthy in order to have a farm
Ms. Dwyer: It helps if there is an inheritance or some passing
along, or a cooperative approach. That is what we are working towards,
making production profitable. We do not want to all live in the cities. We
do not want to go through abandoned land with no one living out there, I do
Senator Rivard: I saw a statistic on the academic training of farm
operators. Only about 10 per cent of them have a university degree. That is
two times lower than the general labour force. Do you think that this may be
harmful to research and innovation? Is it comparable from province to
province? If so, how does it compare, for example, with American farm
operators? Are there more university graduates there, and so on?
Ms. Dwyer: I think that 10 per cent is too low.
Senator Rivard: You do not agree that 10 per cent of farm
operators have a university degree?
Dr. Murphy: I think it is higher than that. Young people are not
necessarily going to university, but the CEGEPs have programs, as does the
Institut de technologie agricole. It exists. I think it is higher than 10
It depends on the industry. In the swine industry, for example, it is
very important to be knowledgeable about health, diseases and other things.
People are well prepared for that job now.
Times have changed. In the past, the animals lived on the farmland, but
now they are in barns. It is really a lot of work. You need to assess the
nutrition, understand the operating plans, and so on. A lot of people have
gone to school.
Senator Duffy: It is great to have you with us tonight. I look at
your academic backgrounds and say, boy, we are lucky to have you working in
this field that is so important to so many Canadians.
My colleague Senator Eaton raised the whole question of genome and
genetically modified organisms. It may seem we are hanging around this more
than you expected, but it seems to me that part of the ability of government
to move new products and procedures and processes into the public realm
relates to push back from the general public, and obviously with your famous
Starbuck that continues to be a problem.
Going back to the time that genetic modification started, we have had
Frankenfood, the things that people are running around with their hair on
fire about still, you see them sometimes on Oprah Winfrey and these
shows in the afternoon with so-called experts advising people on all kinds
of crazy stuff. For example, do not give your kid an inoculation against
measles because it might cause some other problem. It seems to me that some
of these dire predictions that are picked up by the general public, in fact,
have a detrimental effect, in that case, on health.
Given all of the talk about Frankenfood, have we had any Frankenfood
instances that come to mind in Canada?
Dr. Murphy: I know of no example of any time that there have been
This is not related to genetic changes, but one of the ways that you can
preserve food is by irradiating it. For instance, I believe there a lot of
strawberries and things that you get from California that seem to never want
to die have been, at one point, irradiated. People say that irradiation will
cause lots of problems. What they do not understand is that they think that
the strawberries will become radioactive because of that, but that is not
the case. It is like if you have shined a light on something and then took
the light away it would not fluoresce or glow anymore because of that light.
If you inactivate all of the bacteria within using a radioactive source,
then they are gone and the radioactivity is gone, too. People do not
understand and they associate this. There are problems, and I think the
problem is public education more than anything in this case.
In terms of genetically modified, there are genetically modified tomatoes
on the market in the United States, and I believe they are on the market in
Canada as well. I do not know, but there is a flavour-improved tomato which
you can buy.
Senator Duffy: There are about 500 varieties of tomatoes. I have
attempted, over my lifetime, to try them all. The ones from Prince Edward
Island are the best.
As we look down the road as a population, if we are to meet the concerns
of feeding the world — which we all want to do and we want to feed this
country well and do what we can to feed the rest of the world — will we, as
a society, have to confront these hysterical, and so far without basis,
claims in order to meet the world hunger problem?
Dr. Murphy: We certainly will, but I think the answer will come
when people are hungry. I think these things will be less important. They
will look for efficiencies in production more than anything.
Senator Duffy: As Senator Eaton has pointed out, if we do not get
out ahead of the curve then you are in a situation, as we are in Europe, of
trying to explain the inexplicable to people who have their eyes and ears
Ms. Dwyer: It is interesting that it was a big, multinational
company that brought out the first GMOs, and they were side swiped. They did
not realize that, perhaps, having a herbicide-resistant variety that
benefited farmers was not something that would appeal to someone in downtown
Ottawa, that it was not close enough to home that it was worth any risk. I
think it comes back to the fact that you cannot prove zero risk.
Senator Duffy: Look at southern Africa.
Ms. Dwyer: These images are dramatic.
Senator Duffy: Southern Africa has turned its back on all sorts of
things that would help them feed their own people, on the basis of
Dr. Murphy: Ignorance.
Ms. Dwyer: That is ignorance.
Senator Duffy: Thank you for coming here today.
Senator Robichaud: My question is for Ms. Maria Derosa. Do you
A Mr. Phillips has already spoken to us about the fertilizer you
mentioned, intelligent fertilizer, if we can call it that. Where are you at
right now? Do you know when farmers will be able to use it? Will it be soon?
Ms. Derosa: I will just bring people up to speed; maybe not
everyone was present when you heard about this idea before. We are working
on fertilizers that can respond to signals from crops. The crops are
emitting signals from their roots and there are certain of these signals
that are molecules — just sugars and amino acids, et cetera — that relate to
the need for nutrients, such as nitrogen demand.
We are developing a fertilizer with a coating that can respond to those
signals. The coating can become more permeable and allow more fertilizer to
be released when it receives the signal from the crop saying, "Now is when
I need the nutrient — not yesterday or not necessarily tomorrow. " That is
We started this several years ago. We are doing proof-of-concept work and
are at the point where we can start with a prototype in soils so that we
will, hopefully, show within the next year that this will actually work in a
greenhouse type setting.
People have asked how long these sorts of innovations will take. This
will take many years, but over a period of four years of stable funding, we
have gone from a crazy idea that no one thought was possible to the point
where we have shown it in a lab that we can make these films that can
respond to signals from the environment. Hopefully in the next few years we
will be able to show that it could work for a specific crop. If it works for
a specific crop, then we would move on to signals from other crops and other
nutrients. Right now we are looking just at nitrogen, but you can imagine
phosphorous, micronutrients — all these things.
This comes back to the idea that, with the right funding and the right
time, we can achieve some of these innovations that people might have
thought were crazy several years ago.
In terms of how long down the road this will take before it would
actually be used by a farmer, that is hard to predict, obviously. However,
if these prototypes do work well, it might be ready in 5 or 10 years.
Senator Robichaud: It would take that long?
Ms. Derosa: Maybe. It depends. Like I said, it has taken us five
years to get to this point where we would even have something to test. At
our current level — this is just two researchers with our respective teams
working on this — I would imagine it will take at least another five years
before we can say it will work in crops. However, it depends whether we can
ramp up and that sort of thing.
Senator Robichaud: Then you really need stable funding, do you
Ms. Derosa: We need stable funding. This is not just an issue in
agriculture. It is in health research. There is the idea of trying to reduce
"researcher churn, " as it is called; it is the idea that these researchers
should not be spending all their time writing research grants to support
their programs. They should be spending their time doing the exciting
How do you reduce this churn, which is constantly applying and trying to
keep your research going with funding you can scrounge up in any which way?
The answer is by giving chunks of funding, over a period of time, that you
can count on — five years, and even more in some of these health scenarios.
I know CIHR, which is health funding, is looking at seven years now to
reduce their "churn. "
It is important to have these chunks of time wherein you know you can
plan ahead and get the people needed and train them to do these interesting
things without constantly going back and begging for more and more money
just to keep going.
Senator Robichaud: You talked about biosensing.
Ms. Derosa: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: That principle can apply to plants and animals,
Ms. Derosa: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: You also talked about nanotechnology.
Ms. Derosa: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: I read an article at one point that said that
this nanotechnology could be used to transport drugs or things to certain
places and target this.
Ms. Derosa: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: You work in that area. Does it have anything to
do with intelligent fertilizer or is it completely different?
Ms. Derosa: Exactly. There was the idea of using nanotechnology to
target, in the case of, say, drugs — target a drug directly to the site
where it is needed — so why not apply this to agriculture? Target the
nutrient to the crop when it is needed. Release the pesticide only when that
crop is under attack instead of constantly applying it to the entire field.
Why could we not do this? There must be similar sorts of signals that
plants send out when they are under attack; why not? We have to find these
signals and understand them, right? This will take a lot of time. The payoff
could be less impact on the environment. We can use a lot less of these
fertilizers, or what we use could lead more to crop growth rather than
leeching to the water and environmental problems. With the right effort, we
could make big progress.
Senator Robichaud: You spoke about a multidisciplinary approach.
Is there resistance to that?
Dr. Murphy: No, not at all. With resistance, it is difficult to
see the situation as a whole. For example, I like working with
epidemiologists. When we start out, we see that the approaches and ways of
thinking are very different and also very useful. I am always learning from
my colleagues from elsewhere. I think it is beneficial.
I am testifying in the name of basic research. It is an important area
for me. However, sometimes we see things at a closer level and not a general
one. The multidisciplinary aspect allows us to meet with someone completely
different, people from disciplines or areas that are entirely different, who
can provide important ideas and approaches.
Take for example a chemist who works with someone in the agriculture
field. The perspective is completely different. These two people come
together to deal with a common problem. It is a good example.
Senator Robichaud: You said that we need a multidisciplinary
Dr. Murphy: Yes, basically.
Senator Robichaud: Meaning that we did not have one before or to a
Dr. Murphy: We do not have a lot. For example, we have the
toxicology program that deals with the basic aspects, clinical aspects and
the health system, among other things. These four pillars interact. You know
more about agriculture than I do. I do not know of any examples of programs
that support multidisciplinary research.
Ms. Dwyer: I think it is an evolution because even the
universities have different departments that deal with soils, plants or
physiology, for example. In Guelph, it was decided to include everything in
agriculture. The department covers all the disciplines and areas of
agriculture in one division. Things still need to be broken down one way or
another, and it was easier to do that by discipline. The concerns and the
issues are now too complicated. A whole team is needed. For major proposals
involving a lot of money, particularly in the international fields, we need
a lot of expertise. We must be able to say for exemple that we are a team of
12 and we have someone for each discipline. It requires a way of
communicating. One person alone cannot understand all the details that
scientists like to understand. Every one has an idea, but this is not
expertise; it is the team that has all the necessary expertise. To address
the problem, we need to communicate together and divide the funding. It is
an ongoing evolution, and we need to do more.
Senator Robichaud: With long-term funding?
Dr. Murphy: Yes, with long-term funding.
Ms. Dwyer: To resolve a big problem.
Dr. Murphy: For example, rather than do several small projects, we
need to focus on a single project likely to resolve the problem of the
sustainability and environmental impact of pig farming. We can do this by
consulting with specialists in hydrology or animal physiology, for example.
We can consult nutritionists, farm managers. By working together, we might
be able to resolve the problem more quickly.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Robichaud.
When we talk about a "multidisciplinary approach, " I must admit,
doctors, that you have given us much food for thought. Your messages have
been received clearly and precisely. We thank you for being here at this
Honourable senators, there will be a short in camera meeting before we