Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 10 - Evidence - Meeting of February 9, 2012
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 9, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:03 a.m. to examine and report on research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I call this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry to order.
I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. My name is Percy Mockler, chair of the committee and a senator from New Brunswick. At this time I would like to start by asking each senator to please introduce themselves to the witnesses.
Senator Mercer: Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Mahovlich: Senator Frank Mahovlich from Toronto.
Senator Plett: Don Plett, Manitoba.
Senator Eaton: Nicole Eaton, Ontario.
Senator Maltais: Senator Maltais from Quebec.
Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard, Les Laurentides, Quebec.
The Chair: Thank you very much, honourable senators. As you know, the committee is continuing its study on the research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector.
Today we are focusing on understanding research and innovation in the agriculture and agri-food sector, past and present, from the perspective of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This is with a view to the order of reference developing new markets domestically and internationally, enhancing agricultural sustainability and improving food diversity and security.
Honourable senators, as witnesses today we have Ms. Jody Aylard, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
We also have Gilles Saindon, Director General, Science Centres Directorate, at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Dr. Martine Dubuc, Vice President, Science, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Dr. Primal Silva, Executive Director, Animal Health Science Directorate are from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Thank you, witnesses, for accepting our invitation and for Canadians and for the honourable senators to have the opportunity to hear you share your thoughts and recommendations to the committee.
With that, I would like to invite the witnesses to make their presentations and it will be followed by a question period. I am informed by the clerk that Ms. Jody Aylard will start, to be followed by Dr. Martine Dubuc, and then we will have questions.
Jody Aylard, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: I welcome the opportunity to help you in your examination of research and innovation in agriculture.
AAFC, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, conducts research in support of Canada's agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector to increase environmental sustainability, compete in markets at home and abroad, manage risk and remain at the forefront of new innovative products, processes and technologies. Scientific research is a key function of the department and we have been providing scientific support for some time. In fact, last year we celebrated 125 years of the research branch.
We began in 1886 with five experimental stations across the country: Nappan, Nova Scotia; Ottawa, Ontario; Brandon, Manitoba; Indian Head, Saskatchewan; and Agassiz, British Columbia. All of these farms still form part of the network that we have today.
Since our inception we have delivered a number of noteworthy accomplishments that have helped stretch the boundaries of agricultural production and expand markets for the sector's output. Some of our historical contributions include the development of Marquis wheat, which allowed Prairie farmers to get the harvest in before the first frosts, eventually leading to Canada's position as a net agricultural producer. We have developed new cold-tolerant crops such as soybeans that have created new markets for Canadian farmers.
We have also created new processing opportunities for the food manufacturing sector. We were a major partner in the development of canola, and our involvement with that crop continues today with disease-resistant germplasm, canola-quality mustard and biofuel research.
We released the Shepody potato, which has gone on to become one of the world's most important processing varieties for French fries.
The agri-food sector has seen many changes over time and our evolution has been closely linked to those changes. Today our network spans the country with 19 research centres located across diverse agricultural ecozones, serving both national interests and regional needs. A complement of more than 2,000 employees, including more than 500 researchers, provides expertise on a wide range of agriculture science disciplines.
Each of our research centres has a critical mass of expertise and specialized facilities. For example, pilot plant facilities at our food research centres at Guelph and Saint-Hyacinthe advance genomics capabilities at Saskatoon, London and Ottawa, facilities for swine and dairy in Sherbrooke, and beef cattle at Lethbridge and Lacombe, just to name a few.
In 2006 we released our Science and Innovation Strategy after extensive cross-Canada consultations with representatives from across the sector and the value chain. This strategy describes our seven research priorities and from those we have developed 22 key expected results and management practices, which now allow us to assess our efforts to meet these priorities.
We have an integrated human resource strategy that is based on the need for renewal of science capacity, which has led to the hiring of 38 new scientists over the last two years in research areas of strategic importance to the role and the priorities of the branch and the sector.
Collaboration is one of the critical success factors in our management practices. It leverages federal research investments, brings together necessary capacities across institutions and helps to focus research on areas of benefit and importance to the sector. An example is our collaboration with the Western Grains Research Foundation. Producer funds directed through the WGRF have funded significant research in Winnipeg, Brandon, Swift Current and Lethbridge research centres, as well as universities and provincial organizations. This research has led to numerous new varieties, improved germplasm in wheat and barley, responding to market demands and environmental challenges.
The current Growing Forward suite of programs, which is the federal-provincial framework for agriculture, contains a comprehensive package targeting science and innovation, most notably the Developing Innovative Agri-Products initiative, referred to as DIAPS, and the Clusters initiative. These initiatives are also encouraging collaboration, resulting in greater industry leadership and defining research priorities and are building networks that bring together the scientific teams drawn from industry, academia and government. We now have 10 clusters in place worth approximately $68 million, representing Canada's major commodity groups and 41 DIAPs worth over $41 million.
The Dairy Cluster, for example, helps the dairy industry bring together scientific and technological expertise to accelerate research into nutritional qualities of dairy products and find ways to improve cow herd productivity through better animal health breeding. Another example is the Organic Cluster, which brings together scientific expertise from academia, industry and government to develop more efficient, profitable processes for organic farmers. The research focuses on soil fertility, grain cropping, greenhouse production and food processing. Through clusters and DIAPs, industry investments total over $40 million.
Other initiatives under the Growing Forward include SAGES, which stands for Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Systems, to facilitate establishing scientific understanding of interactions between agriculture and the environment.
We also have the Animal Plant Health Research Program, which has allowed us to take part in an international effort to address the spread of Ug99, a serious disease of wheat that threatens production worldwide. This program also funds research on canola clubroot, a serious disease that may have impact on export markets. We are applying the same targeted funding to discover alternatives to antibiotics for use in animal production systems.
Other targeted programs allow us to leverage science capacity from other government departments and agencies, as well as from around the world, for instance, the genomic research and development initiatives, a multi-departmental initiative to which we have contributed research and crop genomics. An example of our contribution is the discovery of a wheat gene that confers resistance to fusarium head blight, a disease responsible for cumulative losses of over $1.5 million at the farm gate since 1996.
International collaboration is an important means by which we keep abreast of developments around the world as well as share data and expertise on the world stage. In particular, we are able to assess new ideas and emerging technologies, enhance Canadian science and technology capacity, provide science advice and expertise to support trade and international development, and support AAFC and the Government of Canada international commitments.
We have a number of specific international science cooperation agreements in place with several countries including China and the United Kingdom that include exchanges of research personnel and development of joint work projects.
We know the way ahead will present a number of challenges that we must anticipate — population growth, world prices, dietary consumption patterns, food safety issues, non-food uses of agricultural products and climate change. The list is extensive, and we will require innovative science to stay in step.
In July this year, at the meeting of the federal-provincial-territorial agriculture ministers in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, ministers issued a statement that recognized the role of innovation as a key driver to achieve outcomes under the next federal-provincial framework, Growing Forward Two, which is currently under development and is to be in place by April 2013. In defining the next generation of science and innovation programming, we will build on our successful collaboration with industry, academia and provinces to help keep Canadian agriculture producers, processors and agro- entrepreneurs at the forefront for the years to come.
We know we must remain a forward looking organization to ensure our relevancy and to deliver the science and innovation needed to support the agriculture sector.
Dr. Martine Dubuc, Vice President, Science, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Good morning. I would like to sincerely thank you for your invitation to present the Agency's involvement in research and development.
First, I will give you an overview of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency was created in 1997 by combining the food safety and inspection program of four departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and also Industry Canada.
This move facilitated a more uniform and consistent approach to safety and quality standards and also risk-based inspection systems. The CFIA now is Canada's largest science-based regulatory agency, with over 7,500 dedicated employees working across the country.
The agency is responsible for delivering all federally-mandated programs for food inspection, plant and animal health, and consumer protection as it relates to food.
The success of the agency relies on five key interrelated factors: sound science, an effective regulatory base, effective inspection programs, effective risk management, and strong partnerships.
Today, I will focus my talk on the scientific components and the research activity of the CFIA and how they support innovation in the Canada's environment. The CFIA's Science Branch was established in 2003, so it is a young branch. It has a network of 14 laboratories across the country, with approximately 900 dedicated staff, including a broad range of specialists, professionals and research scientists in three domains: Food, animal health and plant.
The CFIA relies on sound science as the basis of its program design, operational delivery and regulatory decision- making process. The specific scientific activities that are conducted by CFIA are laboratory diagnostic tests, research, surveillance and also technology development to have always the right method for the right challenge. Our scientists also conduct risk assessments and analyze scientific data and provide scientific advice in order to identify and prepare for emerging issues.
There are many research drivers at the agency. New threats such as pests, invasive species, animal diseases, and emerging pathogens in food are factors the agency takes into consideration when setting its research priorities.
Recent advances in science and technology are one of the very important factors currently in developing our research priorities. The increasing complexity of issues, in the areas of the environment, water quality, public health and climate change, must also be taken into account in our research priorities, as well as the need for strategic management of resources to address priorities.
CFIA research is related to our regulatory mandate, and it is a little bit different from what we have heard from the AAFC. Our research is focusing to prevent and anticipate future threats and emerging diseases. We need to always have tools ready to prevent disease that may become a threat for the agri-food sector or public health. We need to also always have tools in place to put in place a rapid response. This is why we need to develop laboratory methods that utilize the most of today's technology, as an example, DNA fingerprint and molecular technology to always reach the decrease of our turnaround time.
We also need to respond to societal values and evolving expectations. For example, more than a dozen countries wanted to participate recently in a pilot project led by CFIA to develop a non-animal based alternative test to detect paralytic shellfish toxin in shellfish. Today, the modern countries use this new method for detection of toxins that was developed by our CFIA researchers.
We have a research strategy that has been developed again to take into account all those kind of issues. This strategy provides direction for scientific research that effectively supports our regulatory mandate, that also supports our decision making and supports the development of policy and programs and policy implementation and operational delivery of programs across CFIA business lines.
The research strategy that touches on plants, animals and food sets priorities for three business lines and promotes research collaboration and partnership. For the animal health sector, our research priority focuses on three areas. The first one is risk characterization. We also need to conduct research to always be capable of identifying and characterizing new risks that can touch the animal health sector. We also need to conduct research that will anticipate and prevent any kind of emerging animal diseases, and we need to conduct research to always improve our methods of managing disease outbreaks across the country.
On the plant health side, we have focused on three areas: prevention and early detection, risk evaluation, and pest and quality management. On food safety, our two focused areas of research are to anticipate regulatory method needs and also to evaluate new methods that will help us provide a more rapid response and innovate with our technology.
The agency's research strategy must address the issues and challenges of today and tomorrow. That is why we have identified a new integrated research framework, which integrates diagnostic and surveillance data and focuses research on priorities to proactively address current and future challenges and opportunities.
That is why the agency has an integrated research framework based on a research program whose systematic planning with partners is essential and that guides us to perform the highest priority research. This research is managed in an efficient and effective manner, and results are communicated quickly to those who will use them.
We also our measure our outcomes against our goals and objectives. An example to illustrate this rapid approach to developing research would be the H1N1 pandemic. This story, which affected the whole country, started with human cases in Mexico and the United States.
In April 2009, an influenza-like illness was reported in a swine herd. No specific test existed to confirm whether the pigs had the flu virus.
The following example illustrates the cooperation between Public Health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The agency's scientists quickly developed, in under 48 hours, diagnostic testing methods to be able to detect the new H1N1 virus with the help of the Public Health Agency, which had developed the technology for humans. The technologies were transferred in under 24 hours to the Public Health Laboratory of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's laboratory.
Within two weeks, this new technology was also transferred to all provincial laboratories to ensure that throughout the country we were able to face any H1N1 eventuality. Within a few weeks, we also shared this scientific capacity around the world.
When these events happened, the agency received calls from all over asking for this new technology that had been developed in the Winnipeg laboratory. In the space of a few weeks, the country and the whole world were ready to diagnose the new virus. The cooperation of the agency and its experts decreased wait times for the technological transfer.
All this leads me to speak to you about the collaboration and partnerships that are so critical to developing research at the agency.
Scientific activities require coordination and partnership. We work regularly with universities, federal and provincial counterparts, industry and national and international scientific communities. This connection creates synergy and helps us maximize flexibility in a constantly evolving regulatory environment by leveraging our investments in testing, research and development.
CFIA, together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, form a portfolio that is very committed to fostering integration and partnership among its members for the benefit of all Canadians and the agri-food sector.
A typical example of our collaboration is our effort to leverage our respective research funds to contribute to innovation in agriculture and meet the expectations of the Canadian public. We have mechanisms in place to share priorities, plan in complementarity and launch projects in collaboration. Respective research projects are mandate-based but complementary, which leads to enhanced and compounded outcomes. We believe that project interdependence engages specific expertise and is critical for project success.
In addition, collaborative research strengthens the value and impact of science through the innovative continuum. AAFC and CFIA research synergies lead to enhanced innovation through the value chain. Currently, the CFIA and AAFC are collaborating on 21 projects. CFIA also has scientific research collaborations with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Canadian Forestry Service.
International collaboration is also very important, as we saw during the H1N1 pandemic. The agency strives to ensure that the international regulatory framework, as it relates to our mandate, is strong, coherent, and science-based.
Our scientific expertise is vital if Canada's interests are to be reflected when negotiating technical arrangements and sanitary and phytosanitary standards in the international arena.
The agency is ever vigilant as it continues to identify and prepare for new and emerging threats. We apply innovative approaches such as foresight and modelling to help us in this regard. We use a multi-partner collaborative approach to these activities where the agri-food sector, provincial government, universities and other partners are invited to discuss the threats of the future.
Scientific activities, such as diagnostic testing, preparation of scientific advice, surveillance, risk assessment and data analysis, require continual review and refinement to make sure Canada continues to meet and even exceed international standards.
These standards must be met if Canada is to enjoy the international market access that is so vital to our economy. More importantly, these activities safeguard the health of Canadians at home, and our environment.
The agency's laboratories are well respected on the international front. We have four laboratories that are recognized as reference laboratories for the World Organization for Animal Health and are considered to be international centres of expertise for designated diseases.
In conclusion, as you can see, CFIA science and research does much to contribute to the health of Canadians, agriculture innovation and to the robustness of our economy. It is, however, a collaborative effort that we undertake with many partners.
It has been my pleasure to address you today, and I will be very happy to answer your questions.
Senator Plett: Are either of you able to talk a little more about Canada's export of beef to Mexico and hogs to Korea? What is our relationship there? How open are the borders? I know we have done some work on it. Can either of you comment on that?
Dr. Primal Silva, Executive Director, Animal Health Science Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Our efforts are continuing, along with the Market Access Secretariat of Agriculture Canada. CFIA contributes more on the technical side, but we work very closely with them as well.
In order to get access to these markets, there is a continuing effort ongoing on many fronts. Korea, Mexico and a whole range of other countries are included in this effort.
Senator Plett: Where are we at? Are we able now to ship hogs to Korea, or are they still closed? Is it getting better?
Dr. Silva: I think it is getting better because it is based on our standards of animal health.
In the country, the Korean shipments are beginning because it is a huge demand that has been placed on our system. Initial negotiations are in order to make sure the health certificates are acceptable to the country that wants to import. Those negotiations sometimes do take time, but we are on the right path.
Senator Plett: Not the answer I was hoping I would get, but thank you for that.
Ms. Aylard, you spoke very briefly about a disease that threatens wheat worldwide. Maybe I lost something in the translation. Could you explain that to me a little bit?
Ms. Aylard: I mentioned fusarium head blight as one of the examples of the contributions of our genomics research, to developing resistance against it. Is that what you are referring to?
Senator Plett: Possibly. Have we been successful in eradicating that?
Gilles Saindon, Director General, Science Centres Directorate, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: There are two diseases we mention in this case. We talk about Fusarium head blights. We have identified some genes with resistance to fusarium head blight. The infected wheat produces a toxin that will be problematic for humans or livestock when they consume the wheat, so basically it is disqualified. We have come up with genes to help combat the disease in the field, but it happens that we require more genes to work together to get complete immunity against the disease, so we are not quite there yet.
Another disease was mentioned, Ug99. It is a stem rust. It came from Uganda, Africa, and moved to the Syria area and is almost into Iran now ready to jump over the mountains into India. It is not there yet, but this is where the disease is at. In this case we launched an initiative about three years ago under Growing Forward to be ready for that disease should it happen. If it moves to India, then it is a matter of time to Australia, and it is a long cycle around the world, but it will eventually come here. We want to be ready for the disease ahead of time, so we are trying to come up with a variety that is resistant, which is a long tradition of our breeding program. With stem rust, we have done it over and over; it is part of our surveillance. However, this one has a coordinated, international effort and we are a part of it.
Senator Robichaud: Dr. Dubuc, there are questions I would like to ask you, but I cannot and I am anxious for the case of our New Brunswick farmer, Mr. Tepper, to be resolved so we can get to the bottom of the story. It concerned an inspection certificate. I will wait for another meeting.
Ms. Aylard, I was looking at the document on science and innovation we have here. When you made your presentation, you did not mention the Experimental Farm and the Michaud farm in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. That concerned me, but I have just found a little mention. Could you say a few words about this station? It concerns me a bit when it is not talked about.
Ms. Aylard: We have 19 research centres and 37 sites, so I did not list every single one of them in my opening remarks, no. Again, I will ask Dr. Saindon to talk more about some of the research that goes on at that farm in New Brunswick.
Mr. Saindon: The farm is located in Bouctouche and is associated with our Fredericton research station, the Potato Research Centre. It is a reporting relationship. Research is done on berries, fruit trees and some vegetables for cool- climate production on the light, sandy soils of eastern New Brunswick. There is a team of biologists, of research scientists who work there throughout the year and conduct a series of applied projects closely aligned with the needs of the industry.
Senator Robichaud: I also know that this station works closely with local farmers to apply different methods. That really works. It is research that people can apply.
In your presentation, Ms. Aylard, you talked about climate change. Could you tell us what research is based on the changes, those that already exist and those that are coming?
Ms. Aylard: The research we undertake with climate change really has two focuses. One is mitigation of climate change, doing research to look at how we can reduce the production of greenhouse gases in agricultural production, for example. The other area of research is adaptation to climate change, work we do on variety development, for example, to look at drought resistance attributes in crops, that kind of thing.
One example I could mention, too, is the swine and research facility in Sherbrooke that is attempting to have a zero environmental footprint as an operation, as a research centre, and it is functioning as a farm. We have a wide range of areas of research serving those two streams — adaptation to climate change and mitigation to the contributions of climate change. Do you want to add more detail?
Mr. Saindon: Under the SAgE's initiative, which comes from Growing Forward and which specifically targets the environment, there are two major objectives: water and climate change. So, a great deal of research is done in synergy with other departments in this area to counter or anticipate the effects of climate change. This is supplemented by an international initiative in which we participate, which provides funding to universities so they can also work towards understanding, countering or anticipating the effects of climate change.
Senator Robichaud: You are saying that this climate change is not a mystery for scientists. This is really happening and we are already feeling the effects?
Mr. Saindon: There are many effects on the environment. Scientists have been working on this for some time already with a general focus on carbon and nitrogen flows. They have been studying this for several years now and have observed quite extreme events and their effects. Torrential rains and long droughts are often associated with the global phenomenon of climate change. Yes, we are quite concerned and we scientists are doing the best we can about it.
Senator Eaton: I would like to thank the witnesses for their presentations which are always interesting.
I should start with Ms. Aylard. Are we, and I hope we are, still using genetic modification in some of our research, or because of Europe's resistance to GM products have we stopped?
Ms. Aylard: We are doing research on genetically modified organisms and crops in an effort to understand the behaviour of genes, to understand their interaction with the environment, gene flow and that kind of thing. We are not in the business of developing GMOs for commercial varieties. That is left to the private sector to develop. They are better placed to understand the market opportunities and the market risks, but because we do have GMOs grown in Canada, we do research to understand how they behave. So last year, for example, there were 22 million acres of GMO crops grown in Canada, largely corn, soya and canola. These are all privately developed varieties.
The second big role for government, of course, with genetically modified crops is the regulations, so the research that we do helps to provide science-based evidence for regulatory approvals so that we can assure science-based decisions and approvals to continue the reputation of the safety and quality of the food and products produced in Canada.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Saindon, did you make reference to rust disease? Is this because we have narrowed the gene pool for wheat hybrids? Explain the term to me.
Mr. Saindon: I would be happy to explain. It is not necessarily related to the narrowing of the gene pool. We constantly try to bring in new sources of resistance, but there is a constant battle between the pathogen and the plant. The pathogen moves and changes as a result of a plant that becomes completely immune to the disease. The pathogen has no other choice than to drift, to change or to adapt. It comes with new virulence genes; it is a constant cat and mouse battle for us. We have plants now that are able to defend against the new strain, but that strain will try to adapt to this new genetic resistance. It is an ongoing battle, and that is why in the area of stem rust and other wheat rusts, we have surveillance programs to look for new incidents of rust. Our group at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg has become famous over the years for doing this work. We do not hearing a lot of things about rust problems in Western Canada because of this constant rejuvenation of the genes in our varieties that we deploy over the years.
Senator Eaton: Do you have seed banks?
Mr. Saindon: We have seed banks in cereals and other crops as well as material in Saskatoon at the Plant Gene Resources of Canada. We have seeds for many crops as well as working collections where our plant breeder, germplasm people, geneticists, have material that is state of the art. We have connections internationally as well.
Senator Eaton: Do all countries have seed banks or is this something we are pretty good at?
Mr. Saindon: We are good at it, but we are not the only country. Many countries, but not all, have seed banks. We also rely on international centres under the FAO across the world. They have seed banks so we tend to work with each other. Some of the seed banks are mandated and have an international obligation to maintain particular types of material. Canada has an international obligation in the area of barley and oats. It is so big that it cannot all be in one place. In fact, it would not be wise to have everything in one location.
Senator Eaton: Dr. Silva, is there greater collaboration now between animal and human disease? Were they not talking about building an animal facility right next to the human facility? That will be the next big danger, will it not?
Dr. Silva: Certainly, the Winnipeg laboratory is located side by side between animal health and the Public Health Agency of Canada. It is a critical achievement because of the diseases that can go between humans and animals and more than 70 per cent of new diseases that we face come from animals. The ability of these diseases to go between humans and animals is a critical consideration. Canada is at the forefront of creating the capabilities on the human health side and the animal health side. The scientists across the two agencies working collaboratively has been a very good thing for Canada.
Of our recent successes, Dr. Dubuc mentioned H1N1 influenza, for example; but a number of organisms are a high threat to the country. These laboratories can handle agents of very high pathogenicity. We are able to work in advance of a disease incursion. The strength of those laboratories is in being able to prepare for, to diagnose and then to respond to these diseases that can come quickly. There are many interactions at the levels of research, scientific exchanges and diagnostics.
Senator Eaton: If you have any recommendations that you would like to put in our report, would you submit them in writing to the clerk of the committee? Thank you.
Senator Mahovlich: You mentioned the quality of potatoes. This past summer, I found that sweet potato fries were very popular. I was told that there is more value in a sweet potato than in any other potato. Will we be seeing more sweet potatoes on our dining room tables in the coming years; or was that just a sales point?
Ms. Aylard: That is more of a marketing question than a research question. If the market demand is there, then the companies will be growing and selling sweet potatoes. I could not comment on the marketing aspect and the opportunities that are there for sweet potatoes, except from a personal consumer experience.
Senator Mahovlich: Is the sweet potato similar to any other potato in its value? Is there any difference? It is not a P.E.I. potato.
Mr. Saindon: It is not the same potato or the same plant. Sweet potatoes have a completely different genetic makeup than normal potatoes and are a much longer-season crop.
Senator Mahovlich: Where did this potato come from?
Mr. Saindon: It came from South America, in the Andes area, and the Tropics because it is a fairly long-season crop. It is a tuber crop called sweet potato but it is a different plant. It looks a bit like it but it has a much longer growing season and is restricted to some parts of the country, for example, southwestern Ontario. Killing frosts are a problem in many areas.
Senator Rivard: I congratulate you on your presentation, which was very clear. We know that the economic recovery is fragile, and you will have heard of the government's intention to balance the books within the next few years. All kinds of rumours are swirling about the next budget which may impose cuts of between 10 to 20 per cent. What would the impact be on the Food Inspection Agency if your budget was cut by 10 to 15 per cent? Would that involve eliminating programs, reducing the number of inspectors? Do you have information for us about such an impact?
Dr. Dubuc: What is important to note is that this year the agency received a supplementary budget of $100 million in order to modernize its inspection activities. So the government has once again recognized the importance of the agency's mandate. Within these $100 million a portion is set aside for the review of the inspection system, and also, to identify efficiency gains within the system, to see how we could better equip our inspectors to do their job.
The agency has the mandate, as do all other federal departments, to work on proposals and review its programs and see if, within all of our programs, we can make efficiency gains in our service delivery.
So, just like the other federal departments, we have produced proposals to improve our efficiencies by 5 to 10 per cent and just like other departments and agencies these days, we await the government's decision.
On one hand, the government has recognized the agency's mandate, and over the course of the last few years, has invested a great deal to support the agency's mandate and ensure its inspectors are out in the field and that we have the necessary capacity. Out of the $100 million supplementary budget, $19 million has been allocated to the Science Branch in order to increase our scientific capacity.
That is all I can tell you for the moment.
Senator Rivard: That is very clear, madam. If you do not mind, I would have one last question. Can you tell me whether there is duplication with the Quebec inspectors, because the Department of Health has its own inspectors, and then there are federal inspectors? Are you stepping on each other's toes as they say?
Dr. Dubuc: You mentioned that Quebec had agreements with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and with MAPAQ (the Quebec department of agriculture, fisheries and food) in order to avoid the duplication that you mentioned. The Canadian inspection system is a complex system with different roles and responsibilities which are shared amongst various federal organizations such as Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada. However, in the provinces, the public health authorities and the agriculture authorities have certain powers. So each province ensures that two inspection agencies are not visiting the same establishment.
The agency is responsible for inspections in registered businesses which do a lot of processing and which export their goods. That is one of our main mandates. So in the retail sector, restaurants and food establishments who sell directly to consumers, would generally fall under the responsibility of the provinces, and each province has its own particular system. For example in Quebec, that would be MAPAQ.
So we are talking about an inspection system that is complete and complex, with different responsibilities, but we make sure two agencies do not go to the same place.
Senator Rivard: That is very clear, thank you.
Senator Mercer: I thank you all for being here this morning. We do appreciate your presentations.
The other day we had representatives from the Chicken Farmers of Canada here talking to us and we talked about the fact that we are importing chicken or chicken products from the U.S. and Brazil, in particular. We tried to talk a bit about quality and about the testing of quality. The chicken farmers themselves do not do quality checks.
I am going to make the assumption that the chicken that arrives from Brazil and from the United States passes some inspection as it comes into the country. Does that inspection include a quality test as well as a food safety test?
Dr. Silva: Yes, indeed, any of the animal products that are coming from other countries, in this case the U.S. and Brazil, have to meet our import requirements. When it comes to animal product importations, we take into consideration a couple of things. The status of disease freedom in the country is important. That is to prevent any of the diseases that we are concerned about from coming into the country. It is on the health side of the equation. A lot of effort is put into the inspection in terms of looking at the status of the country. Risk assessments are done in terms of the acceptability of the country's status from disease freedom and then we specifically look at the systems that are in place to assure the safety of the food. That is looked at as the standard. If it is acceptable, then they can gain entry into the market.
The quality question is more a market determination, in this case. It is the animal and animal protein and that part is done more at the market level.
Dr. Dubuc: We have also an importation program on different commodities. On the meat side, yes, we check for detection of some kind of residual medications or veterinary drugs. Each year we have an importation program where we check those products. Each lot that comes in is not checked, but there is a sampling of an importation, and, yes, we check for some kind of threat like this.
Senator Mercer: It would seem to me that our number one job is safety; our number two job is to protect Canadians against inferior products.
You mentioned that the government added $100 million to the budget last year. That is very good; this is an important area. However, we have seen news stories recently where the number of inspections in certain areas either has been reduced or will be reduced in certain plants. I do not understand. If we are putting $100 million into this, I would have thought that the number of inspections would increase and that we would be feeling much safer than we were before.
Dr. Dubuc: Yes, you are right. When we put more money toward inspection, we should have more inspections. Again, however, the food chain is very large, so we must also establish priorities on the food chain and see where the best place to invest for the risk is. Sometimes people think that we are diminishing inspection in some place, but it is always based on the risk. If there is less risk at this place and a higher risk in another establishment, we will move from that place to this establishment to ensure that we are managing the risk. We have no data right now that demonstrates that we diminish inspections; to the contrary.
Senator Mercer: It would seem to me that the processing side is where we have had problems in the past, and that that is where the emphasis should be until such time as the processing industry proves to be less problematic.
Dr. Dubuc: The industry is also developing a lot of food safety programs at the farm level and in the processing sector. More and more, they are capable of managing the risk in their own establishment. The role of CFIA is oversight and to be there to ensure that they are doing what they are saying. More and more, they are managing well the risk at that level. It is the evolution of the knowledge in the whole food chain. Also, maybe the chicken farmer has mentioned that they have put in place nonfarm food safety programs. All the chain food is there right now, so that is why we have to re-evaluate where the best place is for our inspectors to ensure that we are managing the risks in the high-risk sector.
Senator Maltais: I would like to welcome our guests; thank you for coming. I will be relatively brief. In your brief, you raised the issue of antibiotics. We have heard other witnesses, especially concerning turkeys and chicken, who said it was necessary to use antibiotics when raising these animals.
Does the same hold true for hogs, cattle or other food animal production? Are antibiotics always present in Canada's food chain?
Dr. Dubuc: That is a major issue. Animals, just like humans, may be affected by certain diseases. So the use of antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian is something we do to ensure the animals remain in good health. Every time antibiotics are used, there are prescribed withdrawal periods in order to ensure that these animals do not present any risk of residues if they were to be eaten.
Over the last few years, the agency has put in place major monitoring programs to check for the presence of antibiotics. We can confirm that the compliance rate is very high. This means that even if we must use antibiotics with the animals, there are controls in place to ensure that the withdrawal periods for these antibiotics are being observed. Ultimately, we ensure that the meat produced does not contain antibiotics, and that all byproducts from these animals do not contain antibiotics.
You must understand that animals also get sick and that they must be treated. Mind you, there is no constant application measure. In certain cases such as pork or chicken, there may be a preventive use.
However withdrawal periods must be used in order to ensure that consumer products do not contain residual antibiotics. The industry has applied these measures for many years now, and the agency provides monitoring. So the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is subject to monitoring.
Mr. Saindon: Our research teams are being proactive in seeking an alternative to antibiotics in food animal production. We are trying to replace their widespread use, because some antibiotics have growth factors. We would like to replace this usage in animal husbandry with new strategies. Some of our research projects are specifically targeting this problem which tends to favour the herd's health in a preventive and proactive manner in order to avoid using antibiotics to treat disease. More specifically, we have a research project which is targeting this exact issue.
Senator Maltais: Well, this is news and very good news. Now I would like to talk to you about ice wines and their qualification on the international market so that our Quebec and Niagara producers may sell their wine abroad. Could you please tell us a little more?
Dr. Dubuc: Scientifically speaking, we cannot answer your question, but we can forward your question and see if someone else in our organization could provide you with an answer.
Senator Maltais: It seems that the method used for picking grapes to turn them into wine does not comply with European standards. We would appreciate any answer you could provide to this question.
Dr. Dubuc: With pleasure.
The Chair: We thank you for following up on that.
Senator Plett: I have one question. I think it was Ms. Aylard who spoke about research between different countries. We know that our Minister of Agriculture has been travelling in China with the Prime Minister. A number of exciting announcements have come out of that, one being the canola. You spoke about research exchange between Canada and China. Could you elaborate? Are we sending scientists back and forth to our countries? Could you tell me a bit about what the research exchange is between Canada and China?
Ms. Aylard: We have an extensive research relationship with China at a number of levels. There are six research sites in China that are similar, for example, to agriculture ecosystems in Canada so we can do comparable research. We have a student exchange program and have had over 170 PhD students from China do their research and final PhD work in Canada. Many of them go back and are then important connections for Canada — both in research and market development — in terms of an ongoing relationship with Canada. We have cooperation on a number of fronts. The research relationship is quite strong.
Mr. Saindon: It is in quite a broad array of disciplines and areas. We have some Chinese students, both at the master's degree and PhD level, coming to Canada to get their full education. They do a lot of the research at our research centres in collaboration with a nearby university. It helps and when these people return to their country, they tend to initiate sustainable relationships with our scientists. They continue to interact over time. Given that China is quite an emerging strength in terms of scientific expertise around the world, we enjoy the possibility of further research in the future. It is an investment now, but I think it will pay down the road.
Senator Plett: What are some of the other larger countries that we do this with?
Mr. Saindon: We have quite a bit happening with India as well, and solid interactions with major players like the United States. We have people interacting with France and the United Kingdom on an ongoing basis, but those were established way back, and they continue. At this stage it is not so much to help the training of these individuals, but to do state of the art research together. It is all about partnership. The world of science is very broad and I think we have to help each other if we want to advance to create synergies and opportunities for collaboration. That is something that is quite common in the field of science.
Senator Plett: Thank you, and keep up the good work.
Senator Robichaud: Our committee prepared a report on forestry that stipulated that the future lies in research and innovation. We have chosen research and innovation in agriculture as an order of reference. If research development and innovation in agriculture are so deserving of discussion, I do hope that our report will contain a recommendation under which scientific research in the department will not be affected by the impending budget cuts.
Ms. Aylard: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, science and innovation has a long-standing connection with supporting innovation and progress in the agriculture sector. There is every indication that will continue to be the case. When we look at the pressures that the world is facing — in terms of feeding over 9 million people by 2050, estimates that we need to increase productivity by 70 per cent to feed that growing population, doing it sustainably, growth in productivity within limited resources, land, water — I think science will be a key component to the future of the sector and for well-being of the people generally.
We see much emphasis put on science and innovation as a priority to leading to that success. For example, the federal-provincial-territorial ministers' statement last year — that was issued in anticipation of the next federal- provincial-territorial framework for Growing Forward — recognized innovation as a driver towards the strategic outcomes for that framework. Those are sustainability and adaptability as an outcome on the one hand, and on the other hand competitiveness. They recognize the need for a sustained commitment to public research in the statement they issued.
In the 2011 budget, we also recently saw some additional funding to innovation programming to support both science and commercialization of technology to continue to help the sector advance and meet these demands.
Dr. Dubuc: With respect to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency it is the same situation if we compare our research on regulation to all the issues pertaining to the global trade in produce. These days grocery stores offer up a variety of produce and products which did not exist in our markets before. These products create issues for the food chain. You always have to keep investing in developing technological tools which will allow us to address these issues that may be present in Europe today and begin to affect us in the near future.
We need to start adapting more quickly than we have over the last few years. Scientific development and research are the tools we can use to help prepare for and deal with future new pathogens. Every time a new pathogen appears in a country, we are asked if we are able to test it. To do so, we must invest in scientific development and research with all of our partners.
Climate change can also affect the food chain and the pathogens which follow.
It is extremely important therefore that we make sure we are ready to deal with new issues. However, we are working today to prepare for an issue five years from now. We must always have that capacity.
Mr. Saindon: Another equally important point in this approach is an innovation chain that works very well, that is from generating knowledge all the way up to usage and marketing. We must always move to the next stage. We must adapt the new knowledge, adjust it, remodel it, scale it and market it. It is most important to have an innovation chain that works very well. Innovation programming means not only generating knowledge, but also supporting the chain's components. We must ensure the agricultural sector is involved in order to help us establish priorities and the direction we must take to respond to the industry's needs as well as those of Canadians.
Senator Robichaud: On the organic side of things, we see aisles in food stores. Is there much research being done in that area, or are these people who have chosen this route simply to respond to the demand for this type of product?
Ms. Aylard: We do have the science cluster program, which is a program under Growing Forward that brings together industry and researchers within the department and other institutions for various sectors. One of the groups that has benefited from that program is the organic sector. They have brought together a cluster, so it cuts across commodities of course, to do research that will advance interest for the organic production.
Senator Eaton: What are your research priorities? What exciting things are happening right now?
Ms. Aylard: We have seven areas of priority — there is a page included in your package — that are all contributing to the outcomes of the department. We have three strategic outcomes in the department, competitiveness — sorry.
Senator Eaton: I just wanted to — yes, competitiveness, sorry.
Ms. Aylard: Am I not answering your question?
Senator Eaton: I just wanted to know if you had specific areas of research in food, whether it was putting vitamin D in milk, which has been done, something specific that would be interesting.
Mr. Saindon: We are trying to help the process of getting some food with some health claims and we are working with Health Canada on to ensure that the product will get to market with a particular health claim. We are working on that now in terms of food.
We also work in the area of food safety and try to reduce the contamination which gives rise to listeria and other pathogens as well. We are doing some research in that area.
We are also working in the areas of non-food, because there is always the debate of using food for bio-products and other purposes.
Senator Eaton: You are talking about soy, for instance?
Mr. Saindon: Yes, but instead of using soy or corn for ethanol or biofuel production, we are trying to explore some new areas, so things like oriental mustard and camelina, which are new crops we are working on now that are more industrial crops that we would like to use to produce some biofuels for the future. These will not be in conflict with or compete with the crops we are using for food purposes. That is an area that we are trying to expand.
Senator Eaton: It is an ongoing debate. We hear from some people that ethanol is making their food source for, say, chickens and turkeys, more expensive. Other people say that is nonsense.
Mr. Saindon: That is why, in many cases, we are working on the second generation of technology, called cellulosic ethanol. This product comes from the stem, from the stover, the residues of the crops after harvest. We take the grains out and use it traditionally in food and feed, but then we can use the rest of the crop residues to produce cellulosic ethanol. There could be other sources of material as well.
Senator Eaton: If universities come up with a way of taking, say, fat out of bacon — it is one of my favourite foods, I am just choosing an example — would that be something they would bring to you and you would see whether it is healthy for Canadians? Is that the relationship you have to research that is done in the private sector or in academic circles?
Ms. Aylard: Generally speaking, the areas of research for health are not with Agriculture Canada. We have done some directed work in certain areas in terms of helping to get substantiation for health claims in the regulatory process, but that is really the jurisdiction of Health Canada.
Senator Eaton: Even if it is an agricultural product, if it has something to do with human health or —
Ms. Aylard: We have limited research that we do in that area.
Senator Eaton: — consumer applications, that does not concern you? Thank you very much.
Senator Robichaud: I think you already answered my question when you said it was perhaps more about health. Many products are allegedly good for our health, particularly Omega-3s, margarine versus butter, and all kinds of other products. Are these things you look into, or are products labeled as being wholesome without anyone looking into the veracity of this kind of claim?
Dr. Dubuc: Health Canada is the organization responsible for the development of standards. Health Canada has the mandate to determine whether marks or claims, which are put on products, are truthful. The industry likes to have health marks on its products, but they must be validated by the regulatory organization, which is Health Canada.
Mr. Saindon: In our research, we try to understand what the impact is of what we call bioactive ingredients in plants. Some foods are definitely good for your health. We are trying to understand which factors within bioactive elements contribute to good health. We are trying to identify and separate these elements to understand what their effect is. As for health marks, it is Health Canada which is responsible for them. We simply try to increase our understanding of these things.
Senator Rivard: There are many stakeholders in the field of agriculture and agrifood, including coops, multinationals, communities, local enterprises, associations, marketing agencies and researchers.
Who are the main partners in the area of innovation and development?
Ms. Aylard: The approach that we take with innovation and development is to work with the entire value chain. As was mentioned, we have an innovation pathway, from knowledge creation through to markets, which requires us to work with all of the players in a value chain, from the researchers and knowledge developers right through to adaptive research, commercialization and marketing. The department brings together value chains. We have value chains for beef, for grains, for various commodities like pork, et cetera, and we work together to address a number of issues of common interest across the chain. It is not just research. These value chains are started with a focus on marketing and market development. All players are seen as equal partners. That is the key to success in terms of making knowledge have an impact.
Senator Maltais: Several witnesses said that they conduct research and development in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. How much work, in percentage terms, does your agency do in the area of research and development with the private sector?
Dr. Dubuc: As far as the agency is concerned, our partners are much more likely to be universities and regulatory organizations. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada might have a different answer, but we normally work with federal and provincial governments, and with universities, in the interest of developing tools and setting up research projects in collaboration with research institutes, which tend to be paragovernmental organizations, but which are focused on developing the regulatory tools we need.
Ms. Aylard: The private sector numbers in research are a little challenging to get, so we do not have a specific percentage. We could estimate in the range of 15 to 20 per cent, and we could see if we could get you better numbers. We have seen growth in private sector contributions. Some of our programs are encouraging, for example, producer associations to contribute money. For example, in the DIAP and cluster programs that I mentioned, we have seen a $40 million contribution of new money for research from the private sector.
Mr. Saindon: In several cases, regarding private sector research, there are two types: there are producer associations, which are more prevalent, and there is also the private sector, which is focused more on profit. But we work a lot with producer associations under the checkoff system.
Senator Maltais: I have a question on organic crops, which everybody seems to be talking about. If you do not eat organic cereal, you will die. If you do not eat organic vegetables, you will die. Just how important are organic crops for the health of Canadians?
Dr. Dubuc: No scientific study has really proven, with clear evidence, that there is a difference in the way organic foods versus conventional foods affect our health. When we will see more conclusive studies, I think that we can focus on them more closely, but as it now stands, no study has demonstrated that there is a significant difference between the way each of these types of food affects our health.
For products produced the conventional way, we have safe products on the market, and this what is important for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Senator Maltais: What do you think of the report released this morning by the Conference Board, regarding food inspection? Did the news not make the rounds at the agency yet?
Dr. Dubuc: Not yet.
Senator Maltais: It was reported that the inspection service is very good; however, there is room for improvement in the restaurant business and in the quality of supermarket products.
Dr. Dubuc: As was mentioned before, regarding Canada's inspection system, there are several responsibilities. These are shared responsibilities. The provinces and the agencies have certain responsibilities. We have to look at the system as a whole to see where it can be improved. We are always open to meeting with our partners in the inspection system to see how it can be improved in the interest of always applying the highest standards.
Senator Maltais: How can an organization like the Conference Board produce this kind of report without even meeting with organizations like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which, at the end of the day, is the Canadian authority on controlling the quality of our food?
Dr. Dubuc: I think you should ask them that question.
Senator Plett: This will be my last question. There has been some talk here about possible budget cuts. Of course, they are only possible budget cuts because we have not seen a budget, so those of us who see the glass half full will wait for that to happen before we speculate on it.
Ms. Aylard, you talked about some innovation money that was in the last budget. Could you talk a little more about that and tell us what the priorities are for that innovation money?
Ms. Aylard: The program has two elements; one is a continuation of the program that is modeled on developing innovative agricultural products. This is focusing on near-to-market applied research. It is a proposal-based program, so the priorities are determined by the applicants, not by government. We would get proposals, for example, for some applied research to look at some particular technology or product, take it from the concept stage and look at developing it for marketing. The second element of the program is commercialization of technology, so it is a repayable contribution program that, again, is proposal-based. It is up to the applicants to determine where that money will be spent, and then they will get some contribution funding to go towards the installation of new technology or new processes within their businesses to advance and improve how they carry out whatever they are doing.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much, and I am happy to see that our government is indeed supporting agriculture.
Senator Robichaud: What percentage of the research is undertaken on the request of those who work in that sector?
I recently learned from a report on TV that research had been conducted to determine which genes were responsible for stripes on zebras. I thought, well, that is useful. I hope that the same kind of research is not being conducted to understand why cows have patches. When people see this kind of thing, they feel it is a waste of research funding.
That is why I am asking you a question about the percentage. I understand that people want to do research in all kinds of areas, but what percentage of the research is conducted at the behest of people working in the industry?
Ms. Aylard: We do have a number of different ways that research priorities are set, depending on the type of funding that is applied. Where we are using our own departmental funding, we can set research priorities, put some emphasis on one of our priorities over the other among the seven priorities that we have within the department, and have some determination on where that money is spent. Other research funding is more industry-driven in terms of priorities. I had mentioned cluster and DIAP programs, for example, which are proposal-based programs, so the industry is working to develop a research agenda important to their needs. Then, they are driving those priorities, and the spending includes some research that will be done within the department.
In addition, for example, under Growing Forward, the current program, we did set a number of priorities for areas of research that we have talked about today, such as some of the areas of disease research, animal and plant health research, that are determined by government. There is a mix. To speak to the question of percentage, I will let Dr. Saindon answer.
Mr. Saindon: In terms of percentage, it is always tricky because the funding directed by industry covers mostly the operation of the activities. The salaries of our employees are still paid by the government. The component linked to our innovation programming, which is largely industry-driven and work in partnership with us and other organizations, is in the area of roughly a quarter of the money given to our scientists.
That does not include the salaries, like I said. If you were to calculate the salaries, the percentage would go way down. We receive a combination of money from them and a combination of money that we put on the table as part of the arrangement that we have with industry. Industry, in this case, is producer organizations, which is a large component and some of the for-profit industry as well.
Dr. Silva: If I may answer from the CFIA perspective as well, a lot of the work we do is not curiosity-driven research; it is very much mission-oriented research. In the field of regulatory research, we look at specific questions relating to plant health, animal health and food safety. We look at the critical questions of where there are knowledge gaps and where there is technology that might help. A good example is the application of the new genomics technology so that we can have quicker and more accurate ways of detecting diseases and responding. In the cases of new emerging diseases, plant and animal pests, and food safety threats, this is much targeted in terms of what we do. There is not a lot of room to go after raising seed grass. It is very much targeted work and we have a lot of partners to do that.
We have a partnership program in which we work with other partners and match the funding that they can bring to the table. We have CFIA funding for that to come up with solutions that are relevant to the country.
Senator Robichaud: It is based on need.
Dr. Silva: It is very much based on needs. We have annual needs and an ongoing process to get all the needs met. We look at the broader needs of the country and the needs of our regulated sector, and then come up with the right science to meet the demand.
Senator Rivard: I have a question for Dr. Silva. A few moments ago, Dr. Dubuc clearly established the distinction between federal inspectors and provincial ones. I see that you head the Animal Health Science Directorate. Is there duplication or is it complementary? I am using Quebec as an example because it is where I come from. Does this exist in other provinces? Is there duplication or is it complementary?
Dr. Silva: The system we have in place to ensure animal health is complementary in the provinces. That is because there is a clear demarcation between the federal responsibility and the provincial responsibility when it comes to diseases. At the same time, because it is animal health for the nation, we work closely together. For example, in the last four years we have put in a system of federal laboratories across the country, including all the provinces, whereby a disease that is a threat to Canada can be detected quickly in primary screening at the provincial level and then our laboratories do the complementary screening. It is a system that ensures the integrity of the system and leverages the resources available in the federal and provincial systems.
Senator Maltais: Ms. Dubuc, I would like to have a clarification about organic products, because I want to make sure that I understood what you said. You said that there are no scientific studies which can certify that these products are better for our health, and that the studies which have been published were designed for the producers of organic products. But you do not have anything which would indicate that if you eat organic cereal, it will be better for your health. Is that correct?
Dr. Dubuc: Health Canada is responsible for determining how foods affect our health. That is the organization which will recognize whether something is good for your health or not. As it now stands, what is known — and this is your question — is that we still do not have any studies which have clearly demonstrated that there is a significant difference. The mandate of Health Canada is to assess the impact on human health of organic foods or non-organic foods. If you want more information on that aspect of organic foods and health, then you should direct your question to Health Canada, which could give you a more specific answer.
Senator Eaton: Dr. Silva, does the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have anything to do with slaughtering and butchering?
Dr. Silva: Yes, we are responsible for inspections of slaughterhouses, which is part of the agency's responsibilities.
Senator Eaton: If a lamb is slaughtered in a provincial slaughterhouse, it cannot cross provincial borders. Is that right?
Dr. Silva: That is how it operates; correct.
Senator Eaton: Would it not facilitate interprovincial trade if there was some way of elevating provincial slaughterhouses to the same standard, or perhaps they are. Could there not be greater cooperation?
Dr. Silva: An issue for a long time has been to look at the system and the correlation of the systems. It needs to be looked at from two sides. At the federal level, standards have been established. A number of establishments in the provincial system comply with those regulations. If that standard is met, then the meat produced in those establishments can cross borders and can be exported.
Senator Eaton: Is that provincial?
Dr. Silva: If they meet the federal standard, they can cross. If they meet only provincial standards, they fall under the jurisdiction of the province, in which case it becomes an interprovincial negotiation.
Dr. Dubuc: The agency is currently conducting a pilot project in collaboration with several Canadian provinces on the issue you are talking about, namely whether establishments under provincial jurisdiction could respect federal standards. So a project is underway and several provinces have expressed interest in coming on board to see how certain establishments in their province, which are inspected, might be able to meet these standards. The project will run for one more year. When it is finished, we will see whether certain provincial establishments will be able to operate at the federal standard.
Senator Eaton: We heard from sheep people and beef people who said that slaughterhouses presented a problem for interprovincial sales.
Dr. Dubuc: The project is well underway. We are currently reviewing the agency's policies to see how some of these establishments could meet the standards and so pave the way for this kind of exchange between provinces for certain meat products.
Senator Mercer: To follow up on Senator Eaton's question, this is a problem in Atlantic Canada where there are not an abundance of federal inspections.
It seems to me that one of the things the federal agencies could do is help coordinate activities amongst the smaller provinces — who may not have the wherewithal to have inspection at the same level — to find a standard. It is inhibiting farmers to market their products if they have cannot have it inspected, or worse than that, if they have to ship the product long distances before it is slaughtered and processed.
Dr. Dubuc: We are aware of the problem. That is why, in this pilot project which we have undertaken with the provinces, we wanted to specifically have a pilot project to find out what the differences are on the ground, in the meat packing plants, and to make sure that safety standards in provincial slaughterhouses could meet the federal standard, and thus allow meat packing plants and other such establishments to engage interprovincial trade, if they wish to do so.
It is often difficult to change policies or regulations, but we are heading in that direction under the pilot project with the provinces. Over the next few months, and I would say over the next year, we hope that these projects will yield results, and then we will be able to see whether interprovincial trade is possible.
Senator Mercer: Bravo.
Senator Robichaud: I will keep my promise to the effect that my last question will have been the last one I asked.
Senator Eaton: Should there be established national Canadian standards — that would be good for the Canadian brand, beef and sheep and chickens — for slaughterhouses?
Dr. Dubuc: That is a big question because the project is not completed yet. When it will be finished, we will be able to say to which sectors it applies. Are all sectors similar, that is are meat packing plants for beef, lamb and poultry all the same? It is important to keep in mind the overall context, which involves the participation of the provinces, and which sector they chose to participate in, since this was done on a voluntary basis. We are going to analyze all of the information and try to reach a result which will encourage exchanges, without nevertheless compromising food safety.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I would like to bring four little questions to your attention. Could you please respond in writing to the committee? We know that all countries have their inspection agencies.
They each have their inspection agency. Based on your experience and your professional expertise, how good is Canada's inspection system?
Will you also describe the role of CFIA in regulating in research into the use of plants, animals and microorganisms created through genetic engineering, and what impact it has on the industry. I see Ms. Dubuc nodding to Dr. Silva. We will wait for this.
For new varieties, what proportion of patents is held by the public versus the private sector?
Finally, does your department have an active research program across Canada in the area of biomass energy with residues of animals?
On this, honourable senators, we will take a short break to permit witnesses to leave, and reconvene for budget comments in preparation for the next meetings to go to Quebec and to Atlantic Canada.
Honourable senators, we have a draft budget prepared for the study on innovation in agriculture. This report will permit us to request that the previous budget the committee adopted to travel to Eastern Canada be divided in two, and permit us to travel to the Maritimes and Quebec separately. A copy has been distributed. We have all received a copy. In regard to questions, I would like to ask the clerk to inform the committee on why we had to do this procedure.
Kevin Pittman, Clerk of the Committee: Upon verification of availability, we had some problems with trying to get attendance for the previous dates. The other option was to split the trip that was proposed in two to go over to shorter periods and allow for senators to travel at that time. Upon verification with your offices, there has been indication that we would have sufficient numbers to do so.
Senator Robichaud: It is the same amount of money, you are not spending any more than what you had requested.
Mr. Pittman: It will actually be about $10,000 less.
Senator Robichaud: I move the adoption of this budget.
The Chair: We have consensus to adopt the budget and to submit it to the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration following a final administrative review that will be overseen by the steering committee. Is this adopted?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Adopted.
Senator Plett: Before we adjourn, and I know this is not about the budget, but when will we get the specific dates and confirmation that we are travelling those dates?
Mr. Pittman: Now that we have the verification, we have to go through the process to make sure that the budget is approved through Internal Economy. We do have the dates set aside now. I can send them to your offices, but this is still tentative.
Senator Plett: The budget initially was approved, right, so are we now only awaiting confirmation because we have changed it?
Mr. Pittman: That is correct.
Senator Plett: We should be fairly safe to assume, since we are saving them money, that they will not put up a big fight.
Senator Robichaud: You never know.
The Chair: Within the next 24 hours, we will submit to each member the tentative schedule that has been redrawn by the committee.
Senator Robichaud: I checked with the government whip. If we left on a Thursday, and were away on Friday and Saturday, we would be excused on the Thursday, in fact.
The Chair: Our leadership has shared that if we do ask to travel, to take Thursday, very similar to what Senator Robichaud has just said. We could leave Wednesday night after the session closes, go to where we want to lead in our research, work on Thursday, Friday, and then Friday night or Saturday morning get back home. That is the case.
Since we have a few minutes left, last night I was with the Mexico-Canada Friendship Group and had a conversation with the ambassador. The ambassador has offered to come to the committee to give his views on agriculture and also to comment on NAFTA. He has said that he would be delighted to cooperate in helping to prepare the visit to Mexico.
Senator Robichaud: When we travel to the Maritimes, we are not going to Nova Scotia. This does not mean that in the next budget year we could —
The Chair: We will make a request for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Senator Eaton: I cannot leave on the Wednesday night. Is it possible to join up on Thursday?
The Chair: Yes, senator.
(The committee adjourned.)