Food Security ~ A Canadian Discussion Part II

USask PulsesThis is the second part in a series of discussions held at the Food Security Forum at the University of Saskatchewan in 2013.

Food Traceability, Inspection, and Health ~ Speakers: Art Hill, University of Guelph and Darren Korber, University of Saskatchewan.

The topic of food safety has little problem finding its way into the public spotlight, but only when something has gone wrong. While industrialization transformed agricultural production to meet the growing need, it has simultaneously degraded farming’s social and cultural base.

Food production and its consumption embodies the contradictory aspect of not only the ongoing transformation in the distance of the consumer from the food consumed. The distance creates a disconnect between the demand for secure access to food for all individuals and the level of food safety inspection that can guarantee safe food. The disconnect is another opportunity to begin discussion regarding the need for innovative research that may not be able to be directly tied to economic benefit at its inception, but which, at its conclusion, may represent enormous financial rewards.

The public needs to be educated as to how Canada is a major global player in agriculture and as such must act responsibly in providing funds for research into safe food preparation in a rapidly changing world that exponentially increases the pressure for food security. The current Canadian government is reacting to the pressure through their economic policy, and only applying science as an intermediary measure when a food-safety crisis emerges. The national agricultural platform is solely based on the idea that by driving up the prosperity of its farmers through open and fair trade Canada will produce top-quality food to place on dinner tables around the world. However, the connection between food safety and food security needs to be considered from a preventative as well as reactive position.

The management of public fear and containment of crises that dominates national protocol regarding the link between food safety and food security does not consider the power that prevention may be possible. While outcome-based approaches – such as Risk-Based Inspection Oversight – exist on paper, there is little infrastructure for its development without research that is independent of economic outcomes. Risk-Based Inspection Oversight mandates communication regarding risk within the agriculture and food industry, but the same government that creates such a policy does not provide funding for the scientific research that could prevent food safety issues from developing in the first place.

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Plant and Animal Biotechnology ~ Speakers: Graham Scoles, University of Saskatchewan and David Hobson, University of Guelph.

The Plant and Animal Biotechnology sector is currently coming to terms with the development of genetically modified (GM) crop varieties over the past two decades and a growing body of literature reflects the wide range of new legal, ethical and economic questions raised by GM. An example of the social-economic and environmental impact of GM crops can be seen in organic crop production; they are promoted as environmentally-friendly products in developed countries, while provoking significant controversy in developing countries facing food security and a low agriculture productivity.

The University of Guelph’s EnviroPig project was one area of research looking specifically at ways in which the needs of both the developed and developing world scan be met. It has been shut down due to a lack of funding. A related issue is that of the identity preservation (IP) of cultural foods, which is at risk without innovation-funding for, how can IP be maintained through GM methods? The Canadian government recently mandated the corporatization of research by requiring all federally funded inquiry to be linked directly to a positive economic outcome.

The policy does not provide for the kind of research that allows the time and space for the unexpected finding that most commonly leads to ground-breaking discovery and is required to solve such complex issues as how IP can be maintained through methods of production that promote access to food, such as GM. The national policy reflects how there is desperate need for the agricultural industry, along with related – and seemingly unlimited — fields of study with an interest in food security, to work together and mount a strong objection to the recent mandate through educating the public, as well as the government, on the requirements of innovative research. Raising public awareness of the concerns over IP within GM methods of production is an issue of food security that is of particular relevance in a multi-cultural and developed country such as Canada. The tension inherent within the IP-GM question is an example of an entry-point for discussion of the greater concern; which is how to best find solutions to such problems.

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Water, Land & Climate ~ Speakers: Suren Kulshreshtha, University of Saskatchewan and Howard Wheater, University of Saskatchewan.USask Array of Chickpeas

A role model for how to use PR working to increase public awareness and pressure is the environmental movement itself.

Over the past 100 years, there has been an intense public understanding of both climate change and water scarcity. A variety of areas of inquiry have already concluded that population explosion and extreme economic growth is leading to an over-consumption of resources that, if not halted or altered, will lead to significant challenges to both food and water security world-wide. These topics therefore offer another entry-point to develop a public forum on food security. The fact that the same conclusion about water scarcity and climate change has been drawn through various independent paradigms that have since come together to educate the public and raise funds for research, emphasises how diverse and interdisciplinary forms of investigation are needed to find a solution to such complex and interrelated challenges.

The interconnectedness of water and food security must be made more apparent through demonstrating that the need to discover new and efficient methods of irrigation is not only for crops but for hydrating the inevitable expansion of livestock herds to meet the growing global demand for meat protein. Canadian public awareness of water security’s impact on food security needs to include how economic powerhouse industries, such as potash mining, play a complex and at times contradictory role in water availability. As a crucial producer of fertilizer products, potash mining is critical for making food available to the masses, and yet, at the same time, uses vast amounts of water that could be applied to other forms of food production that are in desperate need of water.

The position of potash in the agriculture industry points to how different areas within agriculture are competing for resources. Any depletion of resources on a national level therefore can potentially increase contention between regions of Canada, creating a continental divide that is counter-productive to the kind of national unity required to face similar struggles for depleting resources on a global level. Canada’s position in the global discussion of water security is critical because it is a concrete example to the world of the fact that it is not only developing countries of the southern hemisphere that are growing and how immigration to northern countries is also increasing and putting pressure on food production.

Canada’s level of natural and agricultural resources requires the nation take up a leadership role in the earth’s water and land stewardship and address climate change alongside natural resource scarcity in the effort to alleviate food insecurity. The interconnectedness of the environment to resource supply implicates Canada’s water conservation methods as a measure of the nation’s response not only to climate change, but food security as well.

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Coming Next:  Sustainability, Environment, and the Strategic Farmer: Conclusions and an array of Future Questions!

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