[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, May 6, 1999

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The Chairman (Mr. John Harvard (Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia)): Members, today we have the opportunity and the pleasure of having a round table with representatives of the Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. I first of all want to welcome the representatives.

It's nice to see you in the nation's capital. We've provided some good warm weather for you, and I hope we have some warm discussion over the next hour or so. I won't go through the list of representatives. I'll leave that to the chairman of the CCFAVM, Dr. Alan Meek.

I want to welcome you, Doctor. I understand that after introducing your team, if I can put it that way, you people will have some things to say, and then we'll get to questions.

Dr. Alan Meek (President, Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We appreciate the opportunity to be here.

As you say, my name is Alan Meek. I'm the dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph and I'm also the president of the Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. As you're aware, there are twelve such faculties—eight agriculture faculties and four veterinary faculties—and we represent all the faculties in the nation.

What I want to do at this point is introduce the deans present, starting with Deborah Buszard, who is the dean at Macdonald College at McGill. She will be making our opening remarks this morning. Then moving from west to east, we have Alex Livingston, who is the dean of the western veterinary college in Saskatoon; Jim Elliot, who is the dean of the agriculture faculty in Manitoba; Rob McLaughlin, who is the dean of the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph; Jean-Claude Dufour, who is the dean of agriculture at Laval; and we're also very pleased this morning to have with us our executive director, Clayton Switzer. He is the former dean of the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph and also former deputy minister of OMAFRA, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs.

I think without any further ado from me, I'll turn it over to Dean Buszard.

Dr. Deborah Buszard (Dean, Macdonald College, McGill University; Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine): Thank you very much.

It's a great pleasure to be here. I thank all of you for the opportunity to present the view from our faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine.

We are much more than that simple name “agriculture” might suggest. We cover areas as diverse as environment, forestry, food, nutrition, professional programs in human health, and the animal health sciences surrounding veterinary medicine. Our faculties are linked to all sectors of Canadian society from the federal government through our local administrations, to directly providing information to consumer groups.

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We have between us in the 12 faculties approximately 20,000 students actively engaged in our programs. We have approximately $200 million of base funding, and annually bring in around $70 million of funding directly to support research. Most of that funding to the Canadian faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine comes from federal or provincial sources, and industry sources add money to support some of our applied research. Our role, simply put, is education and the generation of new knowledge.

In our university at McGill, each of our faculties is required to have a mission statement. I like to say simply that the mission of our faculty, which is a faculty of agricultural and environmental science, is simply to feed the world and save the planet. I think all of my colleagues here would tend to have the same global view of our missions.

We serve society in Canada directly by producing graduates who will be the skilled knowledge workers for both industry and government in the future, and directly through our research, producing new technologies, techniques, new varieties of crops, and new ideas for the long-term sustainability of food production. We serve in our faculties as advisers and resource people for both government and industry, and also for the public good—the consumer groups. We play, I believe, a vital role in increasing public awareness around what are becoming increasingly controversial issues in food, health, agriculture, and very recently, the area of biotechnology. We are known to be a source of unbiased scientific and social science advice for policy makers and regulators.

But we also have an international side that is part of our outreach from our faculties. As such, we export Canadian knowledge and technology around the world, particularly to developing countries, thereby improving the quality of life for those not fortunate enough to be Canadians.

We believe as a group that there are enormous challenges and opportunities facing the agrifood sector. That's one of the reasons we're here today. To give you some background to what we're presenting today, I'd like to present what we think are the four main issues we address that are particularly challenging at the moment.

The first is a very important global issue, and that is world food security and supply. Current estimates predict that world population will stabilize at about 10 billion in the middle of the next century. That's 50 years from now. We know that today on this planet at least 800 million people do not have enough food to allow them to lead healthy, productive lives. To provide a sufficient daily diet for the anticipated population in the year 2050, we will need to increase global food production by two and a half times. That's an enormous increase. I would say, in our favour, that agricultural scientists have increased world food production by exactly that amount in the past 50 years. In other words, food production today is two and a half times more than it was in 1950.

How have we done that? We've done it by increasing what's called the harvest index, or how much of a food can be harvested from a crop; by increasing the use of fertilizers; by increasing the amount of land currently in production; and by expanding the use of irrigation. These were all fine, relatively simple ways of increasing food supply. However, the current rate of increase has stabilized and is in fact declining, because we have reached the end of our capacity to bring in more land, to provide more irrigation, or to increase the harvest index. Scientists working in our faculties and elsewhere around the world now believe that the only possible way we have to increase food production to the level required to provide a healthy diet for all is through the use of new technologies, particularly biotechnology, to make the plants themselves more productive.

This brings me to perhaps the next issue we need to talk about, and this is the use of genetically modified organisms. This is something that has certainly been in the press quite a lot recently.

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Agriculture itself is completely based on the use of genetically modified organisms. There are no crops or animal species that are in large-scale production around the world that are not modified from their wild ancestors. Right since the beginning of agriculture 8,000 years ago we have been selecting and breeding for enhanced qualities or characteristics or yield in all of the organisms we work with. The new techniques we have merely enhance the rate and the kinds of changes we can make more rapidly. We believe that these techniques are vital to our addressing the global need for food in the future.

There have been numerous benefits coming from the development of techniques such as genetic engineering. One of them I might mention is the production of varieties of crop plants with resistance to pests or disease. If we can produce, for example, apple trees that do not require the use of pesticides, we can make the food cleaner and safer and we can reduce the environmental impact of our agricultural production. That's a clear benefit. We can achieve that by using modern breeding techniques.

Some of you may have seen recently the development of cloned goats. This was in the news last week, I believe. It was work done in our faculty of agriculture that led to the production of these goats. These goats were cloned to be a tool to produce a synthetic protein that is identical to spider silk. It's known as bio-steel. The idea is that the cloned goats will be modified to produce this protein, which can be then extracted from their milk and spun into fibres for use in health care and for the development of—some people are talking about this—bulletproof vests. But it would have a wide range of potential uses as a fibre.

This is an agricultural development far beyond what most of us could have imagined even a year or two ago, and it demonstrates the potential Canadian agricultural research has to produce extraordinarily high-value-added new products for Canadian export. The Government of Canada has committed to doubling agrifood exports from Canada by the year 2005, and that cannot possibly be achieved by merely increasing the amount of primary products such as grains or other modified foodstuffs that we might export. It must come through the development of high-value-added new technologies and new products in areas like nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

The developments in biotechnology do not come without raising questions, and we accept that there is great concern publicly. Some of the concerns run from a belief that in fact the very sanctity of life is being invaded, that unnatural plants might run amok in our ecosystems, and very practical fears that herbicide-tolerant superweeds might escape into the environment or that modified foods may have negative effects on human health. We are working in our faculties to address these issues from the scientific and the social science perspective.

A third issue, which seems to me to be of increasing importance, is that of global climate change and the impact this will have on agriculture. The recent discussions at Kyoto have led to increased awareness in Canada of these issues and a large investment in addressing issues of climate change and particularly on managing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Simply put, global warming threatens some of our most productive agricultural areas. Shifting patterns of rainfall, for example, are predicted to make the Palliser's Triangle in southern Saskatchewan absolutely useless for agricultural production in the future because of increased drought problems. Changes in river-flow patterns threaten irrigated agriculture in Alberta. It's likely that we will see a migration of agriculture to more northern regions of Canada.

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This brings interesting questions about how productive our varieties could be in more northern situations. Growing seasons are shorter but days are longer. We'll need to address those changed growing conditions and different soil types by developing new varieties and new growing techniques. We will also need, on the social science side, to look at the development of infrastructure, transport, and facilities to handle agriculture shifting to different regions of the country. So we see in the short to medium term very much increased demands for new information, new cultivars, and new techniques to address climate change.

This brings me to the fourth and final issue that I think we're facing critically at this time, and that is the relationship between agriculture and the environment. I speak from a position as a dean of a faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences, and I know of the tensions that exist between the farmers in some cases and the environmentalists.

Agricultural activities, we must confess, can be a large non-point source of pollution. The simple and common example of that is nutrient loads flowing into the river from the applications of fertilizers, and particularly nitrogen, which leads to eutrophication, algal blooms, and then the death of large parts of our rivers. Now we can see from space the effect of this type of pollution at the delta of the Mississippi, for example, in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is now every summer a large dead zone where there are no fish. And this is an effect of agricultural pollution.

Pollution of water also occurs with pesticides, and with the use of irrigation we see increased salination of soils. Agriculture has also led to loss of natural habitats and reduced biodiversity. Several of the world's most important rivers—fortunately none of these in Canada, but two examples that you would recognize, the Nile and the Yangtze—now fail to reach the sea late each summer because so much of their water is taken out for irrigation. This is leading to salination and decline of the rich agricultural lands around the deltas of those rivers. This is going to compound the problems we will face and the issues surrounding security of global food supply. Shortages of clean water and the salination of soils are considered to be two of the major risks facing long-term global food security.

So here we are poised on the eve of the next century, and we believe that for Canada the role of the faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine is probably more important today than it has ever been. We are committed to serving, as we have in the past, through providing highly qualified graduates, from the diploma level, who work in the practical sides of the agriculture and food industry, to the doctoral level and those who go on in the future to work as researchers in the federal government, the universities, and in industry.

We can provide the answers to the problems and the challenges we will face through our research and through our service to the community as information providers, but we have some major concerns. This is one of the reasons we're here today. I'd like to go through these briefly.

The first major concern for us is we must have the best students. The best and brightest students must be coming into our programs. We applaud the federal government for recent initiatives such as the millennium fund, the Agriculture Canada scholarships, and the CARD program. For these we thank Minister Vanclief. And we look forward to being able to support more students because of these initiatives. There is an enormous demand for students from our programs. For some of our programs the students all have professional jobs months before graduation and we simply cannot fill the demand. This demand is predicted to increase, not diminish, in the future.

The second thing we must do is to fight the so-called brain drain. Our universities have suffered from pernicious underfunding, which makes it extremely difficult to match offers made to our best and brightest young academics from American institutions. We simply cannot match the salaries being offered, which are sometimes more than twice the salary a professor might be receiving at a Quebec university, certainly. Nor can we match the research funding these professors can obtain in the United States. Current estimates say that to be fully productive in some of the basic sciences a researcher needs at least $100,000 a year of research funding. We don't have agencies in Canada that can provide that type of funding for our researchers.

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The third thing that's an issue is to sustain long-term basic curiosity-driven research. The new technologies that are driving the Canadian economy now, those of biotechnology and information technology, are not something that has sprung up fully formed in the last decade. They are technologies that come from basic research done in the 1950s in the case of biotechnology and in the 1960s in the case of information technology. We have to think with very long-term horizons. And we have to think unconstrained by industrial concerns of today to produce the kinds of innovations that will give us those growth industries 50 years from now.

There has been a tendency for the federal government, through both Agriculture Canada and NSERC, to support research partnerships that support applied research addressing today's problems. While these initiatives have very good short-term benefits, they do not encourage the kind of research essential for our long-term future. And this competition of interest diverts funds away from exactly that type of curiosity-driven research that is so important, and from the training of highly qualified graduate students who will be the researchers of the future. It redirects the funds towards the shorter-term service to industry that the Agriculture Canada research branch so rightly provides.

We believe universities are the appropriate place to undertake the risky endeavours of curiosity-driven research. But to support this we need agriculture and food and veterinary medicine research to be a priority of the granting agencies. The major granting agencies, such as the NRC, NSERC, and the new institute for health research, do not, of course, have agriculture as their primary mission. And we believe that a granting council specifically mandated to support agriculture would help us to continue to provide the sort of research background this country will depend on in the future. The United States, the United Kingdom, and indeed almost all advanced European countries have independent agriculture research councils.

Today only in the university system is basic research on animal health being undertaken in Canada. We believe that we are ideally suited to continue to do this and to address the very prickly issues surrounding biotechnologies: those issues of ethics, consumer education, and the development of public policy. We also believe we have the capacity to undertake the type of work that's needed for long-term research in the environment, to address issues of global warming and climate change, and to also address the issues in trade, particularly in NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, where concerns over our adaptation to the use of biotechnology are beginning to interfere with the free trade of goods.

Canada ranks number one globally in terms of the productivity of its publicly funded researchers. In other words, Canada is getting a bigger bang for its buck from publicly funded research than any other country today. This is research in the public sector funded both directly by the government, organizations like Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the universities. So we are already a lean, mean, research machine, and we are already providing a very high-value service at a remarkably low cost. The cost, in fact, in relative terms is considered to be about 50% that of what is paid in the United States in terms of the research pay-off.

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We have a very proud tradition, but to continue to provide this type of research and training and the education of knowledge workers, we must invest and reinvest in the human resources and in the physical plant and infrastructure of our universities.

Work in the new technologies does not come cheap. Once upon a time we were concerned with how much corn you could produce per hectare or per acre. Now we have to look at where the genes are for this particular protein in this particular plant, or how we can make this food safer. It is not a simple research endeavour any more.

We believe reinvesting in our faculties and in our infrastructure will pay off enormously in terms of the long-term benefit, not just in Canada but globally, in terms of human health and food security.

Thank you very much.

The Chairman: That's it?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: That's it.

The Chairman: Thank you. Are you ready for questions?

In clarification, on the question of public funding of faculties across the country, what is the share of federal funding? Has that share of federal funding been maintained, or has it been going up or going down relative to other sources of public funding?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I'm not sure I can give you a very good answer to that, because of course what is happening is that some of the federal funding is coming as transfers, which are funding the education in provinces, so that base budget comes all as provincial funding. At the level of federal funding for research, we have seen declines in the relative amount coming into universities, which have recently been addressed.

The Chairman: I wonder whether we in Ottawa are keeping pace.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: No, you are not.

The Chairman: Are we keeping pace with others, though? I get your message that we're really not keeping pace with the challenge. I understand that. But I wonder whether we are even less responsible than say the provinces. That's what I'm getting at.

Would any of the deans want to make a comment on that? Rob?

Dr. Rob McLaughlin (Dean, Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph; Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine): I would say that the Province of Ontario puts a significant amount of money into research, but that too has been declining. Collectively, governments as a sharer of the cost have been declining significantly, and industry has been stepping up to the table and increasing their percentage of the pie.

Deborah's point, however, was that most of that new money leverages federal and provincial money against shorter-term, near-market, very focused projects, as opposed to the longer term. So there is some confounding here in terms of where the provincial and federal money is going, but I would say clearly that the federal money is shifting to more near-market, and it's declining relative to the other sources of funding.

The Chairman: I assume that you want to pick up your turn, Mr. Hilstrom.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Ref.): I certainly do, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

The Chairman: I would remind the members that Minister Vanclief will be here for 90 minutes, from 12 o'clock to 1.30.

I should remind you, since Dr. Buszard mentioned it, that the people responsible for the cloning of goats will be here next week, at 9 a.m. on May 11. Dr. Jeff Turner from Nexia Biotechnologies will be here.

Go ahead, Mr. Hilstrom.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, everyone. It's nice to have such well-educated people with us today.

The first thing I would like to deal with is global warming, which you spoke about. In some ways, it certainly seems that's what's happening. I remember back in the 1950s when I first saw the Columbia Icefields as a little fellow. It was right down by the highway, and now it's way back. That could be a combination of pollution and whatever. I don't know the science behind it, but there do seem to be some indications.

In agriculture, on the prairies, where I've lived all my life, we seem to be getting as much rain as we always did with cycling dry and warm weather. Down in California, it's my understanding that they grow rice in more or less desert conditions, and certainly we know the desert conditions that are growing tremendous crops around the world. So would you agree that water is the key to agriculture? Would you like to answer that, Deborah?

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Dr. Deborah Buszard: Certainly.

I'm sure all my colleagues would make the same statement, but water is absolutely essential to agriculture. I think we in Canada have perhaps not taken this issue very seriously because we live with the belief that we have, as people will tell us, most of the world's freshwater supply here. Yet in the long term there may well be very serious issues of the availability of good clean water even in Canada for some of our agricultural areas and increasing problems of salination of the soils.

You talk about California. They are now having enormous problems with saline soils in some of their most productive vegetable-growing regions, and they are having to invest enormously in breeding crop plants that are adapted to growing in salt conditions—creating problems for themselves, in fact, by their agricultural practices.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: But we're continuing to promote irrigation, though, in western Canada. I'm not sure about Ontario, but in western Canada, where we're short of water, we promote irrigation. That's going to continue. I hope these things are taken care of.

Dr. Alan Meek: Could I ask if any of the other deans want to make a comment?

Dr. Jim Elliot (Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine): I'm Jim Elliot, from Manitoba.

I think we have to be very careful, though, in the way we put the nutrient loads on the land in the way irrigation does. For instance, in Manitoba, where we have significant aquifers under the whole province, we can very easily contaminate those aquifers with improper practices if we fail to balance the nutrient input to the needs of the crop, so that what's going in is going to be taken up by the crop, in optimum production, and not going into excess and getting down into the aquifers.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: That saves money for farmers, too. I agree with that 100%.

The only aquifer we've ever ruined in Manitoba was done by industrial pollution, and that was Bristol Aerospace up by Stony Mountain, of which you must be well aware.

Dr. Jim Elliot: Yes. If we get into more irrigated potato production and everything, we have to be very careful.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: The next thing I'd like to deal with a bit is GMOs. You're all in favour of science-based decision-making in regard to genetically modified organisms. Yes or no?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: May I speak to that?

Because of the recent release of these goats on our campus, I have had to answer numerous questions about the issues surrounding the science of biotechnology. It's my view that this is far more than a science issue.

The science is very clear. We know we can do a certain technique or use a certain procedure and achieve various results, and we believe science is neither inherently good nor evil; it's just the advancement of knowledge.

What we choose to do with that science does require that society make ethical choices at some point. Those ethical choices go far beyond the basic science, and they mustn't be taken just based on science, nor must they be taken, for example, just based on religious views. There must be a social consensus on the use of the kinds of techniques that are being developed.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: These academic arguments are fine and dandy, but we have farmers and ranchers out there on the soil who are having a hard time making a go of it.

I could talk about beef growth hormones, for one thing. I could talk about rBST, which was not approved by Health Canada when in fact it's entirely safe. Canola, entirely safe. What's your answer to that?

The farmers are suffering, our trade is suffering, the country is suffering. You don't get money for research grants because the country isn't creating the wealth to give it to you. Do you not see the connection between that, or is there a connection, in your opinion?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: My view is that the more information that decision-makers have, the better the decisions will be. And we are the providers of that type of unbiased information, so we have more work to do in terms of the education component of our activities.

Dr. Alan Meek: This is a very important question, and I wonder if some of the other deans would like to make a comment.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: It's a vital question.

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Dr. Jim Elliot: I think one of the problems we have here is who owns the genome. At least in plant breeding, up until a few years ago all of the genetic material was owned publicly, either at the universities or by Agriculture Canada. That's what it was. Now more and more of this is getting into the corporate world and it's not available to researchers. Once they've got a patent on it, they're protecting it, and that genetic material is gone and tied up. So I think we've got to be very careful about who owns that genetic material and how freely available it is. The more it gets into the corporate world and gets tied up in patent considerations and this type of thing, the less is available to us.

I think that's a concern we've got to think about. The BST thing I guess I've got my own opinion on. Yes, it's safe, I agree with you, 100% safe from the human health standpoint. But I don't think using BST is doing any dairy farmer in Canada any use at all.

We've got a problem already with the Holstein, where it takes us about five years to get a cow up to the point from birth to where they're into production. We get an average of maybe two or three lactations out of that cow, and then it's gone already. Why would we put in a technology that's going to put more stress on the cow and get even fewer lactations out that cow? We should be looking at ways to get cows that produce seven, eight, nine, ten lactations.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. We might pursue this later, but we have to go on to the next questioner.

Madame Alarie.


Ms. Hélène Alarie (Louis-Hébert, BQ): Thirty six years ago, almost to this day, I became a young agronomist and I also wanted to feed the world and save the planet, a little like you. But today there is no obvious sign that I succeeded in this and I hope God will give me some more years so that I can work with you.

This being said, I would like to come back to the recommendations you make in your brief on basic research. If I understand correctly, your partnerships with the private industry are very often aimed at addressing limited and immediate problems and basic research is then disregarded.

Further down, you say that the committee might consider the formation of a granting council for agriculture. If such a council was formed, could the recommendations its members would make solve the other part of the problem, namely basic research endeavours.


Dr. Alan Meek: Who would like to have a go at answering that question? Jim.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I think that would be the idea, that it would focus on it. I guess what's happened over the last few years is we've been driven by public policy more and more to partnerships with industry. And that has shifted our focus to the shorter term, the things that are coming to market.

I think for the long-term good of agrifood research in Canada we have to be involved in the whole spectrum of research, from fundamental research down to what's going to be used tomorrow.

Not many people realize.... I'll give you two examples. The discovery of DNA was made in 1953. That's a fundamental discovery. That didn't translate into biotechnology until the late 1980s. So there's about a 30-year gap from a fundamental discovery to something that's used.

If you take a look at canola, it was again in the late 1940s and the 1950s that they realized there was variation in the fatty acid composition of canola that could be used to change the composition of the oil. But we didn't have canola until 1985. Again, 30 years.

The role of the universities is to be working way down the spectrum on that fundamental research. You may not see the benefit of it for 20, 30, 40 years, and that's the problem. The funding has been shifting to today's problems and we're losing on this fundamental end and we won't see the effect of that for many, many years. I think that's the key.

Dr. Alan Meek: I think Dean Dufour would like to make a comment.

Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour (Laval University; Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine): Yes, but I'll do it in French, please.


Hélène, basic research is not only an issue for that council, one has to be aware of that. It is very important that there be a council to see to the development of that area of research. But I must admit, as a dean, that I very often face the problems mentioned before by Deborah. The best researchers, the more successful are very often doing basic research and they are approached by wonderful laboratories from all over the world.

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A moment ago, we were talking about a minimum amount of money. To give you an example, there are at the present time five professors that I would like to have to work in basic research, but I will never be able to get them because the Americans are already offering them $5 million to start their research and a $125,000 salary, they will not have any teaching to do, and this is for five years. How can you match those conditions for researchers in basic research in Quebec and Canada? It's impossible.

We first need a council that will be able to identify the needs in basic research, for that is where the technological breakthrough will happen in the end. Then you have the conditions for implementing that research, and it is often linked to the availability of young researchers; that is very important. We have to take the whole context into account. The council would be the spark plug, but it is not the total answer.

Mrs. Hélène Alarie: To change subject, I would like to talk about genetically modified organisms and biotechnologies.

We toured Japan with minister Vanclief and I was surprised to see the extent to which genetically modified foods or foods that have undergone a specific biotechnological process were a concern for the Japanese, but also for the Europeans and some Americans.

I think that the problem is not of a scientific nature, but that it belongs to another plane. If we had a very serious code of ethics for those foods and a protocol linked to the code, and also a labelling that indicates exactly what processes the products have undergone and gives adequate information, I think that we could greatly reduce the problem. What is your view on that?


Dr. Alan Meek: Which of the deans would like to comment on that?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I think the question is, if I may begin the answer—


Ms. Hélène Alarie: Do you agree with that?


Dr. Deborah Buszard: —to have a code of ethics would provide some comfort and would deal with the issues. Biotechnology, it seems to me, raises different fears in plants from those in animals. On the plant side the fears are very much to do with consumption of modified foods. You know, that the different gene.... For example, in the flavour-saver tomato, which was a big news item a while ago and has disappeared, a gene that codes for an enzyme has been taken out of the chromosome, turned around, and reinserted. It's really like a jigsaw puzzle. What it does is to make that gene non-functional. It sounds incredibly easy, and in fact once you've got the technology it isn't that difficult to do that. It has the effect of making the tomato last longer. It doesn't rot in the same way that other tomatoes do.

How concerned do we need to be about that? Perhaps not very, but people are concerned about foods that are genetically modified with inputs from other organisms or where genes have been transferred using techniques that involve.... Resistance genes, for example—will this resistance be conferred to other parts of the ecosystem? We should be concerned about these issues, and a code of ethics might certainly help to allay some fears about what you may or may not do without seeking particular kinds of control.

On the animal side the issues are different. People are not so concerned about eating a modified food, but more concerned about some of the basic ethical questions.

The Chairman: Well, we have a code of ethics around here that would suggest we have to share time equally, so we must go on to Mr. Calder.

Mr. Murray Calder (Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I want to talk about this in basically a general way. Let's look at this food security as a three-legged stool. The three legs underneath this are basically the science of biotech, the politics of it, and then finally the education aspect of it.

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Now, I understand the science, and I agree with you. I was at the food conference in Washington in 1995, Vision 2020. We're looking at eight billion people by that figure, so your 2050 for ten billion is a very reasonable figure, and it's probably the peak figure. Our estimates were it would stabilize at nine. So that's the science. We'll have the science to take and feed the people by that time. I'm confident of that, because we did it from 1970 to 1995, and there were major advances.

So let's talk about the politics of it. One of the committees I sit on is the subcommittee on international trade. I believe the only way we're going to get around the politics of this issue.... If you take a look at phytosanitary, growth hormone, and beef over in Europe, also the biotech with canola, the problems we're having with that, there has to be a way we can sit down as scientists around the world and develop an international standard for biotech. I would like your comments on that.

Then the other aspect of it is, and you can even throw in there.... You're talking about who owns the genetic material, so I imagine you're making specific reference to the terminator gene that is involved in that. And that's something, quite frankly, I feel is unconscionable. I know there has to be some way you recoup your research dollars that have been expended into the development of a different plant, but I don't think that's the way.

The final thing is the education of it. The general consumer that's out there and the issue we went through with BST.... And I'll contradict you, Howard, because there was a gentleman by the name of Dr. Elliot Block who would disagree with you on prenatal primate testing. He said there hadn't been enough research done on that. That means that milk would be used for infants, and he said there wasn't enough research. That was one of the reasons we got it shut down.

I am an active farmer, and I know the population right now.... There are less than 3% of us now that are actively growing the food. When we start talking about bio-security and biotechnology and everything, they immediately start running for the woods, because at that point in time their vision of me in bib coveralls with a straw hat chewing on a piece of hay go out the window: wait a minute, what do you mean you're doing this to the cows and the chickens and my potatoes will kill the Colorado potato bug, and all this business? So there you go.

Dr. Alan Meek: There are quite a few questions there. I guess the first one related to the question around developing international standards. Who would like to respond to that?

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: I'll take a crack at it.

I think that is possible in terms of the ethics. It clearly is not possible in terms of the cultures, and there will be places in the world that will find GMOs unacceptable, full stop. I guess, to kind of capture some of the questions around the regulatory system, I worry a lot that we don't get into the system of politicizing our regulatory system. The regulatory system is based on science. We in Canada have seen some politicization of the regulatory system, which only serves to reduce the confidence the public and our trading partners have in our agricultural production system.

From that standpoint, clearly I think the regulatory system has to be based on science. That doesn't mean there can't be ethical or political or some other overlays on top of that. If you go to the BST thing, you take a company like Monsanto, which invested huge amounts of money based on a set of benchmarks, that moves. All that does is discourage—because Canada is not a big market—that kind of investment in our future and our ability to continue to be competitive because the rules change after the investment's been made. And that discourages then, obviously, our partners in the research enterprise as well.

• 0955

I'd like to sort of jab back a little bit on the terminator gene. Murray, you grow hybrid corn. Hybrid corn is the equivalent of the terminator gene. Every year you have to go back and buy new seed. That's a genetically manipulated thing. Cytoplasmic male sterility and all kinds of stuff go into creating hybrid corn now. The terminator gene in self-pollinated crops, such as the cereals and soybeans, is not different.

I would submit that we are better off agriculturally if in fact the farmers do go back to buy the latest technology every year than if they continue to grow watered down and more and more contaminated stuff with the advancement of the generations of growing their own seed. So I would say to you that it is much better for farmers to access the latest technology to stay at the leading edge by growing those new varieties.

The term terminator gene is unfortunate, but the technology or the notion is, I think, positive. For years people have been trying to get hybrid weed, hybrid alfalfa, and a whole bunch of other things. There are huge yields and other advantages to those things, but the minute we get to those, you're going to have to go back and buy the seed every year. I don't see anybody having any trouble with buying hybrid weed seed every year, because they buy it in corn. But then somebody dubs it a terminator gene.

Again, it's a communication thing. It's understanding. Clearly, we in Canada have a huge gap between reality and public perception when it comes to the industry period, not just the science in the industry. I think we can come to an accommodation with our trading partners around the science because the science doesn't change from one country to another. It's the ethical and cultural overlays we have to fuss about. There will be degrees of concern, as Deborah says. To flip a gene around versus bring in an antibiotic-resistant gene are two very different things. We have to worry about those things.

The Chairman: We must leave it there, sorry. Thank you.

Mr. Proctor.

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Dr. Buszard, I found your analysis to be very comprehensive and quite sobering in totality.

On the losing of students, or the brain drain, can you give us some numbers? Are we losing most of our top students to south of the border or other places? How much would it cost to establish that agriculture research council you say is so desperately needed?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: On the subject of are we losing the students, it's very difficult to say. What I will say is that it's difficult for us to fund the best students to the level at which they can get funding outside. If they're scholarship level students, they can very often move into other areas where they'll be more highly rewarded.

As for the cost of running a research council, I think we'd have to toss that number around. NSERC runs a very large granting agency. I have no idea what their total budget is, but I would think that would be a good starting number.

Dr. Jim Elliot: If I may, we do have the Canadian Agricultural Research Council. It is alive and well and functioning. Actually, it's meeting in Ottawa today and tomorrow. So we have a council in place that does a lot of things about promoting agricultural research. It doesn't fund research. It only recommends and looks at priorities.

In terms of the brain drain, I don't know how you describe it. I could only say that I have a staff of 85 academics, and I've lost five of them to the United States in the last year. I've lost them at salaries that would involve up to a 50% increase and for huge increases in research money. The other thing we may not think is too important, but for three of them who had come back to Canada, their spouses didn't find jobs. They went to jobs in the States where they not only got a big salary but the wife, or in one case the husband, was also given a job. So that's the kind of competition we have from the States.

Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour: Just to complete the information, this year we have a decrease of 12% in master's degree students. As an example, we just received a new program from the University of Connecticut. They offered to our students $20,000 a year to do a master's degree and $30,000 for a PhD. Seven of our best students are going there this year. So how can we compete?

• 1000

Dr. Jim Elliot: We would pay about $15,000 Canadian a year for a master's student, and a PhD would get maybe $17,000 to $18,000 a year. So you can see the spread.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: There's another thing that is exacerbating our ability to get and keep grad students and then have them available so that we can hire them, be it that some of them go south of the border. We all have lots of jobs for all of our graduates. In Ontario there are probably four or five jobs, to the point that they're fighting over them. They're signing bonuses after third year. There's all kinds of stuff going on.

The industry itself is not being well served because we cannot fill the jobs. Agrifood is probably one of the greatest wealth generators, and it's growing in leaps and bounds, but we can't supply that.

The competition for undergraduates is so high that the salaries some of those kids are getting when they graduate from an undergraduate program are almost the same as they would have received if they had stayed on to get a PhD and get a job from us. There is no incentive for them to stay in the system.

We, along with HRDC and CARC, the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, did a study on the future of supply and demand for research scientists in agrifood. We produce a lot of scientists who go into fields other than agrifood. So the capacity is there, but we're just not getting the students in.

As Deborah said, we have to find ways to make them understand that this is a really exciting industry and that there are some phenomenal jobs here. But they stereotype, and we don't seem to have good communication with the high schools and with our own students. Then when we do get good ones, they're getting hired, and we can't keep them in the system to be research scientists.

Dr. Jim Elliot: It's a little discouraging for young professors who may have been in the system for four or five years. We're paying them probably $55,000 or $60,000 a year as an academic staff member, but their master's students, without a PhD, go out and get $60,000 to start.

Mr. Dick Proctor: I have just a quick question for you, Dr. Buszard. You talked about the code of ethics on GMO. What would be some of the basics you would see in that code of ethics, and would it include the labelling of genetically modified foods?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: They're all leaping to answer this question.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Chairman: I'll answer, because we're actually out of time for this round. Do you want to be saved?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: No. I would say that I'm in favour of full disclosure and more information to consumers rather than less. The worst thing I believe can happen is to generate fear in the food supply. I think we deal with fear by being open and honest and by generating knowledge in the consumer, rather than attempting to push something under the table.

The Chairman: Thank you. I'd like to add one tiny question on the matter of the so-called brain drain. We hear a lot about it with regard to the losses to the United States. But my question would be, is that offset somewhat by immigrants, new Canadians, who have come here perhaps not from the States but from somewhere else around the world? I listen to your accent, Jim, and something tells me that you didn't grow up on Pembina highway near the Fort Garry campus.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I'm a fourth-generation Canadian. I was born and raised in Canada, absolutely.

The Chairman: Did you grow up in Manitoba?

Dr. Jim Elliot: No, I grew up in Toronto.

The Chairman: Well, that's a foreign country, isn't it?

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Chairman: We'll now turn to Mrs. Ur for five minutes.

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Lib.): Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

I have a couple of quick questions. If public funding is replaced by industry funding, do the presenters here feel they would be losing some of their credibility in terms of research conducted within the universities? To continue with that, how would you be able to maintain your credibility and still receive industry funding?

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Dr. Rob McLaughlin: Clearly, we work in the public domain, so more and more we're confronted with the dilemma about proprietary interests. And I would say yes, our credibility hurts every time we get in too close, and many of us are finding ways to buffer that public-private proprietary business. However, as the percentage of our activity funded by the private sector goes up, our credibility goes down. And I think it's been a good thing that companies, private interests—and I include the corn producers and the Wheat Board, those are private interests—are coming to the table more recognizing that the government is reducing their funding. But they're also shifting the agenda. So legitimately, our credibility has shifted with it, and that's a significant problem.

Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour: To add one word, we're losing credibility. We are not able to keep the leadership in fundamental research, and there we lose a lot of credibility all around the world.

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur: Right. As everyone here has spoken about this morning, you're losing your scientists going south, or wherever, for the bigger dollars. But we also have that same problem with our farming situation, where farmers here in Canada can compete with any farming people across the country, across the world; they're second to none. But our Canadian farmers can't compete with U.S. treasuries. And it's much the same in your field, I think. As you say, the United States can offer these people.... It's much the same with our own farming industry. They get the $6 billion subsidy. We can't afford to do that here in Canada. So whether it's in your field or it's the primary producers, I think we're experiencing the same thing.

Dr. Buszard, maybe I misunderstood you, but I found it very interesting that you said you felt there was less concern in the public regarding animal risk versus plants. I would have thought it would have been the opposite.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: Maybe I didn't express that clearly. I think from the point of view of food, the major concerns are in fact with modified plant materials, because we're modifying plants to be pest and disease resistant, to have certain genes that they didn't have before. Our work in animal biotechnology is not there yet. We're not producing modified foods through animal biotechnology.

Interestingly, the people you'll hear from Nexia are moving into.... The production of pharmaceuticals through animal biotechnology is really where the industry is going. Nexia has moved that even further now to the production of a novel fibre through their goat breeding. From a primary producers' point of view, this is a very exciting thing, because a litre of milk in Quebec sells for something like 50¢, while a litre of milk from these goats might be worth $20,000. So if you were to be a goat farmer, I know which type of goat you would be more interested in producing. The concerns are there, but they're different concerns. They're concerns with risks and with ethical issues about animals more than with food right now.

The Chairman: Dr. Elliot.

Dr. Jim Elliot: Let's switch it from biotechnology to another example. Look at what happened to food irradiation. There's a perfectly safe technology that probably was the cure-all of food safety in the country, and food irradiation went nowhere in this country. It was absolutely killed by the consumers. And we're going to suffer the same problem. That's what's beginning to happen—it's consumer perception versus what the reality is.

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur: Well, you and I will differ on that, okay.

Dr. Buszard, again, where is there a greater difficulty, with the pesticides or generic engineering, by selling...?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I can't answer that. There are points to be made in favour of both approaches. What we are trying to look at is clearly reducing the use of pesticides where and when we can, because of the negative effects the pesticide industry may have on the environment and the effects of the use of the pesticides themselves.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mr. Hilstrom.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: First of all, on the funding for universities, certainly there should be university funding, and there should be private funding. But there has to be a creation of the wealth, and of course proper prioritization by the federal government.

• 1010

You mentioned that the millennium fund was a pretty great thing for universities. Could I ask you a question? This $2.5 billion, is the best way to have it going through the government's millennium fund, or should it go more directly to the universities? I would suggest it's more beneficial to have it go directly to the universities, as opposed to trying to cherry-pick qualifying students to get this or that trip, or this or that funding. What do you think about that?

Dr. Alan Meek: Does anybody want to have a go at that one?

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: How should funding go? You don't have to get into a political argument here.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I'm not going to make a political argument, but if I may say, the shortage of funding in Quebec universities is most critical at the level of faculty and infrastructure, rather than at the level of student support.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: That's a good answer.

When we talk about brain drain, the scope of it is pretty big. If I were being paid $1 million in one country and I paid $600,000 in taxes, or $1 million in another country with $400,000 in taxes, where do you think I'd work?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: It would depend on what the services were.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Okay. The thing is people are making economic decisions based on that, and none of you saw fit to mention taxation as a problem in Canada. Do you think it is a problem, yes or no? Or is it a factor? Let's just put it simply—a factor.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: Clearly, it's a factor in terms of us trying to hire and create a drain somewhere else. So when we're trying to attract top-notch Americans to Canada, that's an issue. I would say to some extent, though, the living conditions and support systems in Canada do help us—not the tax rate, but all of the things the taxes pay for. I too, from Guelph, have lost a number of faculty to the U.S. I've also had a number of faculty propositioned very handsomely by U.S. interests to go there, and they've turned them down because they feel that this is where they want to raise their family and this is where they want to live.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Yes, there are all kinds of examples both ways.

The other thing is the politicization of the GMO. Unfortunately, it's happened and it can't be turned around. The minutes of this meeting here today should be read by every government minister in this current government, and in fact every member of Parliament, because there have been some tremendous comments made by you folks.

Politicization.... Murray Calder and I get along really well, but he politicized this very meeting here by bringing up the terminator gene and telling just half the story to try to bring out something that's controversial and negative toward scientific advancement and scientific decision-making. I think the Council of Canadians and Maude Barlow are certainly doing the same thing.

Do you have any solutions, other than just to try to keep pushing that information out from the universities, that this carries this much risk, a little bit of risk, and something else carries a big risk, and that we don't recommend using the high-risk veterinary medicine or procedure, but we do agree that the low-risk one should be used? Can you discuss that a bit?

Dr. Alan Meek: I'll make a quick comment, and some of the other deans may wish to chip in.

I think the universities do have a role to play as an honest broker on this subject.

Dr. Alex Livingston (Dean, University of Saskatoon Veterinary College): I was just going to say that is perhaps exemplified by the BST situation. Maybe part of the picture there was that it was being promoted strongly by a multinational American-based company, which immediately seemed to taint any evidence that was brought forward because there was a perceived negative twist to what was being done.

Let's take genetically modifying humans. That's a tough subject. But how about if we had a system for genetically modifying people who suffer from Huntington's chorea—those people who develop this devastating disease at 20 years of age? If it could be cured by a simple gene insertion, would that be a bad thing?

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Exactly. That's the point.

• 1015

Once something is deemed to be safe—canola, BST, growth hormones, beef growth hormones, whatever—by the universities, and science says that it's a science-based fact that this is very low risk.... Nothing is without risk. This pen has a certain amount of risk. Should it not be up to the primary producer—the farmer, the rancher—to make the decision on whether or not to use that safe product in regard to his economic operation, his farm or ranch? In other words, the question of whether that cow is able to produce for six months longer or shorter, is that not an economic decision that's up to that farmer? Should it be the farmer or government making that decision?

Dr. Alan Meek: I'll maybe make a quick comment and then turn it over to Rob. I think farmers have been making those kinds of decisions—

The Chairman: We'll take a quick answer, that's all.

Dr. Alan Meek: I think farmers have been making those kinds of decisions for a long time. Technology has been coming out of the pipe for years and farmers have been deciding to implement or not implement those technologies for a good long time.

The Chairman: We're going to Mr. McGuire.

Mr. Joe McGuire (Egmont, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I read an article by Peter McCann recently that said don't be fooled by the European stance on biotechnology, that while the governments and so on are putting up trade barriers using biotechnology, at the same time most of the countries in western Europe are going full steam ahead and putting tens of millions, if not billions, of dollars into biotechnology research, and they're going to be ready. Once the public Frankenstein scares are over, they're going to be as ready as we are, as far as marketing genetically modified foods is concerned.

In your opinion as scientists, is that a true statement that Peter is making?

The Chairman: Rob.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: Yes, absolutely, although I would differ on one account. I would say they are more ready than we are. I think our public is not well informed and their public is very well informed. We haven't been through that yet and we need to get through that. We've had biotech in the marketplace, not transparently. It's been in there; in fact, it got on the market before the public had an opportunity to debate it, and I think we're in for a rough row to hoe.

The problem with the biotechnologies we have right now is that they are of benefit to producers, not consumers. They're at the weed control or pest management area, or improving milk production. When we get to biotechnologies that in fact have direct positive impact on consumers, I suspect that very quickly the EU concern about it will blow over.

We have to be very selective about the kinds of things that are getting into the marketplace. In most things in science, agri-food tends to be at the forefront. Many of the medical discoveries that we have, many of the mechanical discoveries back tens of years ago that in fact have everyday application now, came out of agriculture. In fact, a lot of the animal health work that's going on now and a lot of the agri-food work that's going on now will be in the public domain for public good down the road, and people will be taking all of that for granted eventually. But I would say we have some public debate ahead of us before we're actually where the Europeans are.

Mr. Joe McGuire: People are saying that biotech will be the sleeper at the WTO negotiations in the next number of years, mainly because of the European resistance to importing genetically modified foods, and you're saying their public is better prepared than we are. I thought we were better prepared than they are.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: They're better informed, and so there will be biotechnologies that don't get into the marketplace. They have biotechnologies in their marketplace now, but they've had a very thorough debate about them, and we have not had that. That's why we're seeing all the press now about biotechnologies in the marketplace, because we've never been through that.

Mr. Joe McGuire: All week we have been reading articles in various newspapers, and it's supposed to come to a head with a conference with Maude Barlow this Saturday. Basically, the whole week has been a buildup to Saturday in alerting people to the dangers of biotechnology.

• 1020

Are we, as a country, doing our job in saying that this is scaremongering, and that our system here is scientifically based and it's gone through a lot of rigorous questioning and testing and that it's perfectly safe? It's easy to get news stories with “Frankenfoods”; it's not so easy to get a story out that you can have a variety of potato that is resistant to the Colorado potato beetle. One is a great story and the other is ho-hum.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: We have a tremendous regulatory system, and I personally wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world as far as access to safe food goes. However, nothing is perfectly safe. There is a risk with all of this.

My point is that I think the European public is far more attuned to the kinds of risks than the Canadian public is, and therefore the Canadian public is more easily frightened by the fearmongering. We're not at the point where our public is well versed and well attuned to some of these technologies, and that's our biggest problem right now.

The Chairman: I want to try this once again. We hear about this outflow of talent, referred to as the brain drain, especially to the United States. Can anybody tell me about the inflow of talent into this country?

Dr. Alex Livingston: There is a potential opportunity. Obviously, I'm an inflow. From my accent, you've probably gathered that one.

But the situation is, yes, we could attract talented Americans into western Canada. The problem is that very often, although they're attracted by the environment of freedom of intellectual process, I think they are dissuaded by the remuneration we can offer. I'm not talking about after tax, before tax, or whether you get a 1991 car or a 1995 car. It is simply that they feel they cannot support their families at a living standard that matches what they can get in the United States university system. That's the comparative. I'm never going to be able to compete in attracting a poultry pathologist from a large American poultry company, never. The question is, can I compete with the University of North Carolina to attract a poultry pathologist? Not quite, under the funding system.

There is one other fact I would say about academics that I think is worth remembering. Academics are often driven by their desire to do research, and I think I could well attract a good academic for $10,000 or $20,000 a year less if I could ensure them that they would have access to the $100,000 a year in research money that Deborah refers to. Many scientists are less concerned with personal remuneration than with the opportunity to push forward the frontiers on the research they have, and that type of funding is a problem in our area.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I think the other problem that hasn't been touched on yet is that we have an inflow of people from other countries—I just hired somebody last week from France—but we have to look at Canadians first. That's government policy. We have to advertise for Canadians first. You cannot look at your foreign applications until all the Canadians have been rejected. In other words, if there's a qualified Canadian in your competition, they get first choice. You have to go through the process, and then you have to get agreement that you can then advertise internationally for non-Canadians. So often I guess there's a little bit of desperation to get your position filled if there's a Canadian that's even close. Maybe we're not discriminatory enough.

But you do have that problem. We do have a process; it's a Canadian-first hiring policy, and we have to go through that.

The Chairman: Do you want to say something to that, Dr. Buszard?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: Yes. I just wanted to talk about your question about bringing people in from other places around the world.

The Chairman: I'm not even suggesting that we enter into some program to bring people in. I'm just wondering whether it's happening right now, for whatever reason.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: It's happening at a very small level. But the situation is that if you look at science—and we are merely one kind of science when we're talking about the research that's going on in the social sciences—the best science today is actually happening, in the main, in North America. We have such a competitive advantage in terms of our academic freedom and the opportunities for the scientists in North America that there simply are not that many great scientists we could be attracting. We are where it is. I'm very proud to say that, and I'm completely convinced. If you look at Nobel prizes, for example, the rate at which they are won by North Americans is significantly higher than that by any other group of scientists around the world. But we are competing always for those best people with the U.S.

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The Chairman: I understand that. Thank you very much.

Madam Alarie.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: Dr. Livingston, when we went to Saskatoon, I felt a little jealous when I saw that all your different facilities are close to one another which creates an extraordinary synergy in the scientific world. In my province, we have century old institutions and we don't move them around. But this is not my point, I want to ask you a question. When you create an exemplary hog barn like the one we have in the Lennoxville research centre which costs $6 million, for instance, is that kind of decision made in consultation with the dean? In that particular case, for those who do not know Quebec, we have a hog barn in a research centre and we have elsewhere Macdonald College, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Faculty of Agriculture at Laval University. The hog barn is several hundred kilometres away from the information source and, furthermore, in a region of the country where there is no hog raising. How can one can make such a decision? How can you create synergy doing that kind of thing?


Dr. Alex Livingston: One of the fortunate things we have in Saskatoon is space and room around the university. So the opportunity to simply develop a nucleus of both biotechnology and agricultural research has been rather fortuitous for us, because in many cities the opportunity to actually build out from the university—cities like Ottawa—is just not available. We do have a lot of pork barns in Saskatchewan, but we have a lot of space and so you don't see them very often. We have room to put them at a reasonable distance apart, and that also helps to maintain the environmental impact.

However, one advantage that has been very considerable for us is the opportunity to develop the synergy between industry, university, and then those delicate areas in between. We have the Veterinary Infectious Diseases Organization, which is a basic publicly funded research centre that actually does some of the most sophisticated near-market research in terms of genetically engineered vaccines. But the people who run that organization are members of my faculty. They have faculty status within the veterinary school. The first genetically engineered vaccine in the world for animals was developed at that centre. The people there have faculty positions in my college. They relate to industry, and they have contracts with Bowringer, Pfizer, etc. We're lucky.

The Chairman: Dr. Buszard wants to say something.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I would just like to say that I think some areas across the country—and Saskatoon is one and Guelph is another—have been lucky enough to develop this kind of synergistic partnership among federal, provincial, university, and industry groups. I don't think we have gone as far as we can go with this type of cooperation, and I think something that would be very useful for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to look at in the future is building partnerships on the university campuses to take advantage of the facilities we already have and to make better use of their research facilities in helping us to develop future researchers.

Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour: I just wanted to add one thing. Yes, we have been involved in that question; however, as you probably know now, we won't be able to start a new research project in those facilities for five years. It's complete full now. So we have to build a new one in Quebec and we are facing exactly that problem now.

• 1030


Ms. Hélène Alarie: I would like to talk about your linkages with CIDA. I don't know if you have any, but we hear that there are dire needs in developing countries. As researchers you can solve some problems, but I don't know how the two can be linked together if they are linked.


Mr. Alan Meek: Many of our faculties do have linkages through CIDA and various projects around the world. I don't know if the deans want to maybe illustrate one of the examples they have.


Dr. Rob McLaughlin: We've had several over the years, and continue to have several, in CIDA funds at Guelph, directly through AUCC and through ACCC, the colleges system, because their college is part of the Guelph system. The projects are large, small; they're very focused to fairly broad. I'll just give you an example of a couple. We have Alfred College. They're working with the Guelph Food Technology Centre, which is an organization of food processors, and the Ontario food lab to work in Morocco to help Morocco improve their food quality, looking to maintain their existing markets for things like palm oil, that sort of thing. It's not a big project.

We've had a big one in southern Africa. It involved fourteen countries in southern Africa looking at environmental enhancement capacity-building, all the way from low-impact ecosystem tourism, to sustainable agriculture, to low-impact mining. There's a fairly broad range of things we get involved with. In fact we draw on resources beyond just the faculties of agriculture to deliver on some of these things.

More recently we were in eastern Europe. I was in Romania two weeks ago, and clearly there's a lot of work that needs to go on there. They're coming along, and we have the expertise to help them.

Part of our problem is that we tend to, in some areas, do a lot of international development work and the faculties tend to find resources to do that where they can't find it domestically. Rural community development is a perfect example. There's very little money invested in rural community development research, but we have huge expertise at the colleges in that internationally. Somehow we have to get more resources domestically and repatriate that expertise back to Canada, because we're much better at rural community development in Africa than we are in Canada.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mr. Proctor.

Mr. Dick Proctor: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Buszard, point three of your four main issues was on global climate change, and you talked specifically about Palliser's Triangle and the drought that is anticipated there in the next number of years. When I think of the geography of where we're talking about, obviously farther south there's a lot of arable land in the United States. What is going to happen to the land in the Dakotas and further south in terms of arability? Do we know that?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: I am not a climate expert, but my sense is that what people are talking about is that much of that central wheat-producing area and the corn belt of the States will in fact become much less hospitable to agriculture and much more demanding in terms of water resources. And this will have add-on effects on environment.

One of our concerns in the university and the research community is that decisions will be made regarding Canada's addressing the concerns on climate change too quickly and without good basic research having been done. Suddenly the issue has come to light, and these are not the kinds of answers you can come up with quickly.

I personally am concerned that Canada will develop economic policies on very shaky information, because we simply haven't had the time to provide the good science to provide the information that should be there to make the economic decisions. I believe, for example, that some of the things we're doing in agriculture could be very beneficial in tying up carbon dioxide, and we could actually use some of our agriculture and forestry practices as an approach to dealing with global warming. But we need time to provide real answers to that.

Mr. Dick Proctor: You also mentioned international trading agreements. It's a related question, I suppose, but some people are very concerned about the export of fresh water to the United States. How would you gauge that? Is that a big concern of yours as you look at NAFTA and the potential for the export of fresh water? If these states, Kansas or the Dakotas or wherever, start to run out of fresh water and need it, are they going to just turn on the Canadian taps and have it flow south?

• 1035

A voice: They're going to try.

Dr. Deborah Buszard: This is a very political issue. I certainly could envision in the future there being territorial disputes over water. Water is becoming so scarce in some areas of the world.

We have a water resource research centre at McGill, and one of the professors has recently come back from a trip to northern Nigeria. There are villages in northern Nigeria where they must now drill over a kilometre deep to access water for the village. This is simply unimaginable. That is a completely inappropriate technology for a village in northern Nigeria. Yet these are the extremes to which people are being driven around the world.

The Chairman: Mr. McGuire.

Mr. Joe McGuire: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I was wondering what your opinion is with matching funds initiatives for research versus public. Do you think the matching funds initiative is working as far as long-term good science is concerned versus public funds for research?

Dr. Jim Elliot: With the Agriculture Canada matching fund initiative?

Mr. Joe McGuire: Yes.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I think it was a great management tool, but really what it's done is at a time when universities are being forced to work more with industry by public policy, which has had more cooperative research with industry, Agriculture Canada has brought in a huge pot of money, $35 million, that they can go to industry with and say “Come work with us, because we have 50-cent dollars”. We don't have 50-cent dollars to go to industry for. For the people who talk about a level playing field, it's tilted the playing field.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: I think some of our concern about that too is that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada isn't charging overhead on their contracts. So it becomes more attractive for a company to do work with AAFC. I don't think we quibble with that at all. I think they need this, and I think it's helpful that they're a lot more closely aligned with some of the near market mission-oriented stuff.

The problem is it's running down the infrastructure in their shop, just like our infrastructure is running down, and competitively we're having to charge contractors overhead to continue to keep up and replenish our resources. So there are some concerns clearly among the faculties about the level playing field, but the longer-term implications of that as well. For me, I'm happy to see Agriculture Canada more directly on the front line working with industry, but at the same time, as we've said, that has eroded the total systems investment in the higher end; it's more basic—albeit mission-oriented—stuff.

The Chairman: Mr. Hilstrom.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think maybe we should deal with the veterinary issue a little bit here, but first of all I would like to make a comment.

Mr. McLaughlin, if your contract ever runs out there, the country could probably use an agriculture minister, if you're interested.

Dr. Rob McLauglin: Now, that's very political.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Dr. Livingston, there's some research being done in regard to veterinary medicines that will come on stream in the next four or five years, I believe. There have been snippets of it in the papers and that. Can you tell us a little bit about the type of research that's being done in this area, and if in fact there is an education process in place as this research goes along to have people aware that it's coming along and so they understand it and will accept it when it arrives in four or five years? Could you discuss that a bit?

Dr. Alex Livingston: The two main areas of focus we've been concerned with are the control and surveillance of animal disease. Being able to respond accurately and informatively to questions regarding disease status within the country or within a province or within an area has become really important in terms of responding to non-tariff trade barriers. It's a very difficult thing to deal with. Someone can say “You have to show me you do not have tuberculosis in the cattle in your country before you can export cattle or beef to our country”. It's very difficult to show you don't have something. It's also very difficult to get the producer to pay for that.

• 1040

I'll give you an example. A farmer calls me to his farm and says his cows are dying. He's happy that I can tell him why his cows are dying. But if I go to his farm and his cows aren't dying and say “I tested your cows, and they don't have tuberculosis, now give me $1,000”, he's going to say “Hey, wait a minute. I didn't have any cows dying. Why should I give you money to tell me about something I know I don't have?”

The problem with non-tariff trade barriers is that's exactly what we will have to do. We will have to be able to say we don't have BSE or tuberculosis. Somebody will have to pay for that. It's very hard to ask the producer to pay for that.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: The producer will be paying for that because we're instituting the trace-back system now. You know all about that, with the tagging and so on.

Dr. Alex Livingston: You raised the issue of where we're going in terms of animal production. The other one is the food safety issue, which is very much in everybody's minds. There are two levels to the food safety issue. One is in terms of bacterial contamination. We need to know where that contamination originates. Is it on the farm? Is it in the plant? Is it in the restaurant? Is it on the knives and forks, or on the cook's hands? We have to establish those factors. The other level is in terms of antibiotic and drug residues. The focus for veterinary research now is along the lines of prevention and vaccination rather than treatment. Great progress is being made in that area.

Also, people don't want cuts of meat with big vaccine scars. It's very unpleasant. You don't want that. We're now looking at new routes of administering vaccines to animals orally, by inhalant, or these sorts of things. There's a lot of research going on there.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Your scientific journals are certainly publishing reports, but the general public.... I've only seen it in the paper once or twice, and that's fine.

In dealing with world food supply and making sure we have enough for the future, two industries in particular, the hog and feather industries, seem to have to rely absolutely on the low-level administration of antibiotics. Is there any way of producing without those low levels of antibiotics in those industries?

Dr. Alex Livingston: Here we're talking about antibiotics used as growth promoters rather than disease-controlling agents. That's a tricky one. We may have to look to other strategies eventually to get those growth rates, other than through antibiotics, particularly antibiotics that may have a place in human medicine. I think the lifetime on that process is limited. We will have to come up with alternatives that will deliver the growth rate without the use of antibiotics—maybe through genetic engineering.

The Chairman: Thank you.

On the question of biotechnology, it's not a new phenomenon, yet I perceive it to be more controversial now than perhaps at any time in the past. What has changed?

Dr. Jim Elliott: Canola was developed by biotechnology. I mean, we moved genes around by cross-breeding, which I think is seen as a more natural process. What has changed is we now have the ability to pick out specific genes, and even take them from other species and put them into another species to get a characteristic. Before when you were cross-breeding, you couldn't naturally cross-breed canola and corn, for example. Now you can take a gene out of corn and put it into canola. That's what's changed.

The Chairman: Just one more thing on biotechnology. There seems to be a world of difference between scientists here who know a lot about biotechnology and the scientists in Europe. I'm sure you talk back and forth and attend the same conferences and so on, so why is there a difference between the two continents when it comes to this particular issue—or is there not as much difference as I perceive there to be?

• 1045

Dr. Deborah Buszard: My own research is actually on fruit crops, which have all been cloned since the McIntosh apple was developed 250 years ago. I've never worked on anything that wasn't cloned, so it's all biotech of a sort.

In the field I'm in, all of the researchers doing crop breeding today are using these types of techniques. You simply cannot get the kinds of benefits and enhanced traits we're now looking for by using the old technologies. It's too slow, and we need to make more advances. We need more yield; we need to modify the metabolic processes of the plants.

The Chairman: Mr. Calder.

Mr. Murray Calder: Thank you very much.

I just want to go for a point of clarification, Dr. Livingston, on your statement about growth promoters in pork and poultry. I used to be a pig farmer. I'm out of that business, but I am still active in poultry. The way we operate our poultry farm, we're very much involved in the vaccination program, avian genetics, sexing of the flocks, proper computerized diet for the feed and everything. Quite frankly, we don't use growth promoters on our farm. So I just want you to clarify that.

Dr. Alex Livingston: I was responding to Mr. Hilstrom. I think he was referring to growth-promoting antibiotics.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: I was referring to antibiotics to control disease and deaths, and then for growth—the two features.

Dr. Alex Livingston: There are two uses for antibiotics. One is as a growth hormone and the other is for disease control. I was indicating the growth-promoting ones. Yes, quite a few people like your unit get adequate growth rates and returns without the use of growth-promoting antibiotics. That's the way it's going to go.

Mr. Murray Calder: We're currently hitting consistently the target of 1.85 to one in our feed conversions.

Dr. Alex Livingston: Yes, it can be done.

The Chairman: Jim, do you want to say something?

Dr. Jim Elliot: On the whole question of antibiotics used as growth hormones, we've always said that antibiotics in that use are not a replacement for good management. In the well-managed facilities, which I'm sure yours is, Mr. Calder, you can get away without the use of antibiotics. But that's the top 10% or 15% of producers. Then you have the rest of them down there with management techniques at the lower level. They are certainly dependent on them. If they didn't have them, say the antibiotic use for that means was banned, the price we would pay would probably be about 5% to 10% in growth rate and probably 5% to 10% in feed conversion efficiency. So the cost of production.... The rate of production would just decrease.

The Chairman: Mrs. Ur.

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Dr. Buszard, you stated that there are places in the world that wouldn't accept this technology. Do these countries have problems feeding their people as well?

Dr. Deborah Buszard: One of the examples that was given, I think by one of my colleagues, was Japan, or someone was talking about the attitudes in Japan to biotechnology.

Japan for a long time has had very different attitudes toward transplantation of organs in humans, for example. It also has had very different laws about the use and import of pharmaceuticals or foods products from outside. It is possible, if you keep a relatively closed economy, to maintain all sorts of things. When trade barriers come down, of course, it gets to be a lot more difficult.

I can't really answer for all the countries, except to say that as global trade increases it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain those kinds of barriers.

Dr. Alan Meek: Japan relies, of course, on a lot of imports of food to feed themselves.

• 1050

Dr. Alex Livingston: I would like to make one point here, just so we know what we're talking about. Genetically modified organisms are only one aspect of biotechnology. There's a lot more to biotechnology than gene jockeying. I would include some of the things we're involved in, such as in vitro fertilization in cattle, where we ship frozen embryos to Mexico. That's biotechnology; that's using technology to develop biology. It's certainly not gene jockeying, though. What I'm saying is the word “biotechnology” is a lot broader than just genetically modified organisms. So I think the two things get a bit rolled together in the public eye. It's just worth separating them out, I think.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: If I can just add too, we don't want to get caught in the notion that everybody wants to buy everything we're going to grow or produce. I guess we're moving very quickly, even globally, into niche markets. We've got slaughter plants in Toronto that are preparing meat for export to Muslim countries, and there are very strict requirements. Biotech is just a little part of the no-no's there; it's like kosher.

So at the end of the day we're not shipping boatloads of wheat somewhere any more. We're going to be taking that wheat, processing it, adding value, and fitting that product to a market. I think we are going to become very much more sophisticated in how we do that in the future. There will be markets, I'm convinced of it, that culturally, religiously, or for whatever reason will say no, we're not interested in anything biotech, just like we're not interested in anything that isn't organic or we're not interested in anything that isn't whatever. I mean, we're going to be in a very specialized business.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madame Alarie.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: I am worried about small farms. I was taken aback by a report from the Department of Agriculture in Washington. They say that 94% of farms in the U.S. are small farms. I would like to know if, in your faculties, you have programs on rural development, if you have a specific approach for small farms and if you also talk about the multifunctionality of farm businesses, as many Europeans are doing in their speeches at the WTO.


Dr. Alan Meek: Certainly at Guelph we're quite involved in rural development. Rob, I don't know if you want to elaborate a little bit on that.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: Yes, at Guelph we have some parts of the diploma program, which probably has the highest percentage of students who would go back to a farm, all the way up through to our rural studies PhD. The rural planning school is the only one in Canada, and the rural studies PhD program is really the only one in North America. So rural development is big business for us.

I would say, though—and I think there are some statistics we need to understand—that less than 2% of the population, it doesn't matter what province, and nationally, lives on farms. That's a very small number. And 25% of the producers produce 75% of the output. That doesn't mean there aren't small producers who have nice niche markets with high value-added that are making a living off the farm, but by and large 25% of the farmers are feeding us and exporting. And we export 50% of everything we produce. So at the end of the day, if you get rid of 75% of the farmers, we'd still be able to feed ourselves.

So what do you do with the other 75% of the farmers? At the end of the day, I say many of them are lifestyle farmers: they're not farming for food, they're there because of a lifestyle, and the majority of the farm family's income comes from off the farm. Whether they're working at a job in the city or in town or over the Internet, the bulk of their income comes from something other than the farm.

I think we have to be really careful about what we call small farms. They're all family farms, large and small in Canada, for the most part. I don't think we're at risk in terms of losing the family farm. I think some families are at risk of losing the farm, and that's probably got less to do with size than planning. Probably 75% of the assets tied up in farms are going to change hands, inter-generationally or not, in the next 10 or 15 years. So that's a lot of at-risk, in my opinion.

• 1055

So if 25% of the farmers are feeding us, that's less than half of 1% of the population that's feeding us. I worry more about maintaining that capacity than I worry about the lifestyle people who are living on farms.

I think we are at great risk in terms of what's to come in the next 10 to 15 years and how easily or well prepared we are for that transfer of assets from one generation to the other. We're going to have a lot of families out of farming because they didn't plan ahead and couldn't get that transfer done. Another family will buy the farm. It may be the neighbours, but we're going to have a lot of families lose farms.


Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour: We have programs in that area. The research group called GREPA originally has taken up rural development along the way. But we have another concern: maybe it is not adequate any more to talk about small and big farms and we should consider them from another perspective, because the owner of a small farm has become an entrepreneur, just as the owner of a big farm. Considering the farm in that perspective is part of the problem we have in rural development.

A study by the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec (the Quebec Farmers Association) in the area around Quebec city done recently shows that part-time producers, which we erroneously call small producers, are now selling larger volumes than the full-time producers. This questions a lot of the marketing and farm protection structures since we are not talking any more about the same perception nor about the stabilization insurance, but about group insurance, different facilities and different farm support systems. This is quite surprising and it is the first time we see it.


The Chairman: Thank you.

As we close this, let me perhaps say that I'm not perhaps as sanguine as my colleague Mr. Calder about our ability to increase food production 250% over the next 50 years to feed the planet. I think those were your figures, Dr. Buszard. Perhaps it's because, as you pointed out, some of the opportunities that were available to us in the past 50 years to increase production really have been exhausted and we're going to have to find new technologies and new products to meet the next challenge over the next half-century.

But with respect to the federal government's target of doubling agricultural exports by 2005, that's only six years away, and if that is reliant on new products and new technologies it sounds like a very short period of time to me to rely on those two things to meet that target. Is that target realistic?

Who wants to answer that? Jim.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I think about this a lot. I travel in China quite a bit, because we have a big cooperative project in canola breeding in China, which is really benefiting Canada, because we've got a lot of Chinese germ plasm coming in. But if we think the Asian market is going to be where we're going to have a huge increase in exports, I think we're barking up the wrong tree. The Chinese are headed to be self-sufficient, and they have an incredible production capacity in China. They are self-sufficient in many things now. I don't see that as a big export market. They're talking 1.2 billion people, and I think they're going to be self-sufficient, or they're going to try to be self-sufficient. So I don't think there's the huge export market we think there is.

If you look at what happened in the past, a few years ago India was very dependent as an importer of wheat. India is self-sufficient in wheat production now. So we may have overestimated a little bit.

Dr. Rob McLaughlin: We're talking about doubling exports, not doubling our own production. I guess my sense is that is doable. It will be tight. All of it will be because of value-added. And we're talking about value of exports, we're not talking about volume.

Canada does a very good job of targeting a high-end, high-quality market with the red maple leaf—clean, pristine, green. I guess my sense is the market for us is south of the border.

• 1100

We've done a good job of tripling the processed food exports from Ontario in the last six years, so I think it's doable, but it's a value-added thing. It's not growing two blades of grass any more where there was one. That's not what this is about. This is about processing and, further down the road, value-adding here rather than shipping commodities out.

Dr. Jim Elliot: I think we have more potential north-south.

The Chairman: North-south.

Dr. Jim Elliot: Yes, we have more potential north-south than we do east-west.

The Chairman: Dr. Dufour, I guess you'll get the last word.

Dr. Jean-Claude Dufour: Exportation is a strategy that companies use now. But as I look at it, strategic alliances may be the next strategy. If we look at the way companies are developing now, exportation will probably not double. They will probably prefer to have strategic alliances in different ways and produce and develop in other countries. It's less risky for them, and they have access to other financial facilities, equipment, and everything else.

The Chairman: Thanks to all of you. I think we have profited immensely from your appearance today. We really appreciate your coming and sharing some of your wisdom with us.

Dr. Alan Meek: We appreciate the opportunity to be here. If we can be of some assistance to you or the committee at some time in the future, please call on us.

The Chairman: I hope that we in turn can be of some help to you, especially as you continue your quest for additional resources. We don't call that money; it's “additional resources”.

Mr. Joe McGuire: You should bring your Atlantic colleagues with you next time.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Members, we will reconvene at noon. The minister will be here. Please don't be late, because we want to start on time so we can use every minute available to us to question the minister.

This meeting is adjourned for one hour.