NEWSMAKER: LEON KOCHIAN
Winner of the 2019 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award
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THE UBC FARM
Run by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, this research program probes the complexities of crop resiliency
18 LEON KOCHIAN GETS TO THE ROOT OF THE MATTER
The Associate Director of the Global Institute for Food Security – and recent recipient of the 2019 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award – studies the role of root architecture to improve crops
IISD EXPERIMENTAL LAKES AREA
More than 50 years ago, the International Institute for Sustainable Development created a unique living laboratory for freshwater studies, in northwestern Ontario
Using artificial intelligence to optimize aquaculture, this Quebec-based company helps international fish farms become more viable and sustainable
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Technology and vertical farming are transforming how the world produces food
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Not to state the obvious, but food science is big business. Now that we’re facing rapidly growing populations in combination with natural disasters on unprecedented scales, the challenge is clear: How can we ensure food security, worldwide? No crop can survive wildfires, and few can endure extreme drought or flooding. Then again, by some reports we already produce more than enough food for the world – the problem is also waste. This is a multilevel issue, whether waste is caused by a misunderstanding of “best before” dates or the result of a massive food recall – or simply, on an individual basis, often buying more than we need, which then spoils. At the consumer level, behaviour and demand impact the overall food supply; but more importantly, if we don’t solve some of the challenges in worldwide crop production, we may not have the luxury of buying bananas, coffee, chocolate and many other goods that are threatened by changing climatic conditions. Food is a fundamental requirement for all living things, but wrapped into this conversation is another essential element: water. Without an adequate water supply, our crops and livestock wither. Understanding how to maintain and restore our freshwater supplies is as essential as figuring out how to keep the oceans producing seafood, and how to maintain healthy soil to support our farms. In this issue, we focus on the scientists who are answering the call to action in the quest to feed the world – and in Canada, we’re making headway that impacts these efforts on an international level. The IISD Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario (featured on p.20) is one of the world’s largest living laboratories that studies water systems, and its work is advancing our understanding of the many impacts of climate change; for more than 50 years, the project has monitored a vast network of almost 60 lakes and their watersheds. Crop resiliency is another complicated challenge that is being examined by many researchers throughout Canada, including our newsmaker Leon Kochian (winner of the 2019 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award, featured on p.18) and the UBC Farm (featured on p.12), which is run by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. Using artificial intelligence to optimize farming is an interesting area of research; its use in aquaculture and growing systems is also featured in this issue. We may not have all of the solutions yet, but science is playing a crucial role in advancing our understanding and ability to adapt. As we face an uncertain future, BioLab Business will continue to cover the important developments, with a focus on the Canadian science community. This new decade is an exciting but daunting time – and we’ll Popi Bowman tackle the issues head-on. MANAGING EDITOR
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Dear Friends: I am pleased to extend my warmest greetings to the readers and staff of BioLab Business Magazine. For 35 years, BioLab Business Magazine has provided valuable information to laboratory and biotechnology professionals across Canada. I would like to commend the magazine’s founders and staff for responding to the needs of our country’s scientific community. Your efforts help to ensure that readers are made aware of the latest developments and emerging trends in the industry. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I offer my best wishes for a memorable anniversary and for continued success. Yours sincerely,
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The Rt. Hon. Justin P.J. Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
BY DAVID SUZUKI WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM IAN HANINGTON
DIET AND LAND-USE CHANGES CAN CURB CLIMATE CHAOS
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Ian Hanington is Senior Editor, David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.
and and agriculture are critical components in the climate crisis. According to a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, land use – including agriculture and forestry – accounts for 23 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions, while “natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry.” Simply put, the way we manage forests and grow, process and distribute food is contributing to climate disruption, but protecting and restoring natural landscapes will help absorb excess CO2. Our footprint is huge. Climate Change and Land, by 103 experts from 52 countries, says human use directly affects 69 to 76 percent of ice-free land surface, and agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater use. It notes “the per capita supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled and the supply of food calories per capita has increased by about one third” since 1961, while 25 to 30 percent of total food produced is lost or wasted, all of which increases emissions. Changing consumption patterns also have created a world where two billion adults are overweight or obese, while at least 821 million are undernourished. The report examines food security, desertification, droughts, soil erosion and degradation, and solutions ranging from plantbased diets and sustainable animal agriculture to reducing deforestation and protecting green spaces. “Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies,” it says. “Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but early, far-reaching action across several areas is required,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC working group that prepared the report. “Many land-related responses that contribute
to climate change adaptation and mitigation can also combat desertification and land degradation and enhance food security,” the report says. David Suzuki Foundation research shows protecting and restoring natural systems provides benefits beyond sequestering carbon and addressing climate disruption – such as reducing flood risks, filtering water, controlling erosion and more – at much lower costs than built infrastructure. Some say the IPCC study doesn’t go far enough. Because governments around the world must approve its reports, they tend to be conservative. U.K. climate writer George Monbiot calls the report “a tragic missed opportunity” that “shies away from the big issues and fails to properly represent the science.” His Guardian article questions the IPCC’s tendency to play it safe. “Was the fear of taking on the farming industry – alongside the oil and coal companies whose paid shills have attacked it so fiercely – too much to bear?” Monbiot argues the report authors underestimate agriculture’s contribution to emissions by failing “to capture the overall impact of food production,” noting, for example, that producing one kilogram of beef protein uses an average of 1,250 kilograms of carbon – “roughly equal to driving a new car for a year, or to one passenger flying from London to New York and back.” Rowan Jacobsen writes in Outside that developments like “Beyond” meat products spell the end of commercial beef consumption. He notes producing 1,000 calories of beef takes 36,000 calories of feed, uses more than 430 gallons of water and 140 square metres of land and generates nearly 10 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. “In comparison, an Impossible Burger uses 87 percent less water, 96 percent less land, and produces 89 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions.” In Wired, Megan Molteni suggests gene editing crop plants with Crispr technology could reduce land-use pressure and fertilizer use, and make crops more nutritious and less environmentally damaging. “But it’s still early days,” she writes, “and the impact Crispr could have is not fully understood.” International director and co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association Ronnie Cummins argues in the Independent that “regenerative food, farming and land-use practices” could “fix our climate, restore the environment, improve the livelihoods of farmers and rural communities and produce more nutritious food.” Planting trees, protecting green spaces, eating less meat and reforming agricultural practices won’t save us from climate chaos on their own. But, along with reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency and conservation and shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, they’re all part of the solution.
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OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES AS CANADIAN CLIMATE SHIFTS
10 RESEARCH PROJECTS IN B.C. SEEKING AGRICULTURAL SOLUTIONS The Farm Adaptation Innovator Program – which began as a pilot in 2014, delivering $1.75 million in funding to 15 projects, involving more than 140 organizations and partners – is currently supporting a wide variety of applied research projects that are exploring solutions for crop resilience, soil health and water management issues. In collaboration with nearly 50 partners from government agencies, industry and research institutions, including the University of British Columbia, the various studies are implementing on-farm trials throughout the province until 2023. The Farm Adaptation Innovator Program is focused on preparing for the predicted climatic changes in the region, such as increased average temperatures and overall precipitation, shorter growing seasons and “increased variable and extreme conditions.” The program is funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, as part of a $6-million Climate Change Adaptation Program supported by federal, provincial and territorial governments. Topics of past and current studies include vineyard irrigation practices, innovative corn production technologies, integrated pest management practices, pasture rejuvenation and climate-resilient vegetable farming. The working framework for the program was established by the Farm Practices & Climate Change Adaptation, which determined six on-farm practices to reduce risk or increase resilience in a changing climate. Information was then collected from 29 farms to identify potential barriers to implementation, or areas for further research. Reports on the six areas of focus – conservation tillage, drainage, management-intensive grazing, nutrient management, shelterbelts and water storage – can be found at: bcagclimateaction.ca/farm-level/farm-practices. BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
Topics of past and current studies include vineyard irrigation practices, innovative corn production technologies, integrated pest management practices, pasture rejuvenation and climate-resilient vegetable farming.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reports that, according to numerous studies, “most regions of Canada are projected to warm during the next 60 years.” Due to its high latitude, the country’s overall warming is expected to be greater than the global average. While certain regions will see lengthened growing seasons – which then allows greater flexibility for crop selection – even a slight decrease in precipitation for the Prairies could dramatically impact crop production. “Extreme events like the 2001 and 2002 droughts and floods of 2010 and 2011 can have a devastating impact on crop yields,” the agency notes, “where yields could be reduced by as much as 50 percent of the average yields during normal or more suitable growing conditions.” In January, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada announced $11 million in funding under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for 47 crop-related research projects through Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF). In addition to funding provided by the federal and provincial governments, projects supported through the ADF are also receiving $8.7 million in funding from the following partners: Western Grains Research Foundation, Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, Saskatchewan Forage Seed Development Commission, Saskatchewan Cattlemens’ Association, Genome Canada and the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition. The ADF program is supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $388-million investment in strategic initiatives for Saskatchewan agriculture by the federal and provincial governments.
In addition to funding provided by the federal and provincial governments, projects supported through the ADF are also receiving $8.7 million from various partners.
LIVING LABORATORIES INITIATIVE AIMS TO IMPROVE FARMING
The Association will lead on-farm research activities in collaboration with over a dozen partners and local producers.
THE BUSINESS OF BEES Several funding initiatives are working to ensure the health of Canada’s pollinators, an essential factor for farming success. The governments of Canada and Ontario are supporting projects that will strengthen the health of managed honey bees and Ontario’s beekeeping sector. Since September 2019, the federal and provincial governments have committed more than $221,000 to support 135 projects. These projects will help beekeepers make improvements to better manage pests, diseases and other stressors and grow their bee-related business. Factoring in project funding coming from the businesses themselves, this represents a joint investment of more than $602,000 in the sector. The funding has been provided through a targeted application intake under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, which is a five-year, $3-billion commitment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to support Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector. Eligible applications are being received and assessed on a continuous basis, while funding is available. Some projects supported through this targeted intake include: • Equipment to help managed honey bees survive over the winter months • Projects to detect and manage pests such as varroa mites • Technology to enhance production • Equipment to prepare operations for managing Small Hive Beetle Managed honey bees pollinate 80 percent of all agricultural crops requiring insect pollination. They account for $395 million in pollination services to Ontario farmers and contribute $30 million a year in honey sales. In Atlantic Canada, $800,000 in funding also was allocated to support the honey bee sector, which helps pollinate wild blueberries in the region.The project, led by the Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture (ATTTA), is taking a regional approach to honey bee research in order to meet the pollination demands of the local wild blueberry industry. The project will help improve honey bee colony health, monitor and manage pests and diseases, improve overwintering success and promote biosecurity techniques for the sector. In 2018, the farm gate value of Canadian blueberries was almost $244 million; wild blueberry exports accounted for about half of Canada’s total fresh and frozen blueberry exports, which totalled $475 million to 45 countries.
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Living Lab-Atlantic was established in mid-2019 as Canada’s first agricultural Living Lab, designed to benefit farmers by enhancing soil health, water quality and crop productivity on Prince Edward Island. As part of the government’s $10-million investment in the Living Laboratories Initiative, up to $2.4 million will be granted to the East Prince Agri-Environment Association. The Association will lead onfarm research activities in collaboration with over a dozen partners and local producers, including more than 20 science teams from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The research will focus on developing and evaluating various beneficial management practices to address environmental issues in the province, such as water management, fertilizer use, conservation of soil organic matter, and nutrient losses due to soil erosion. The Living Laboratories Initiative is a new collaborative approach to agricultural innovation that brings farmers, scientists and other stakeholders together to codevelop, test and monitor new practices and technologies in a real-life context. Additional sites will be announced in four regions across Canada: the Eastern Prairies, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The ultimate benefit will be more practical technologies and sustainable farming practices adopted more quickly by Canadian farmers.
RECORD HEAT, CO2 LEVELS KEEP RISING Last year was the second hottest on record (dating back to 1850), and cumulative averages for the past five and ten years were also the highest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The year 2020 has started out where 2019 left off – with high-impact weather and climate-related events.” During the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, the WMO presented its Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate; the full statement will be issued in March, with additional data that documents the impact of rising global temperatures. The Provisional Statement indicates a direct effect on the world’s food supply, pointing to climate variability and extreme weather events as among the key drivers of the recent rise in global hunger – with more than 820 million people suffering from hunger in 2018. WMO reports can be found at: library.wmo.int.
NITROUS OXIDE’S GROWING IMPACT – AND ITS CONNECTION TO FARMING Worldwide, nitrous oxide is one of the most damaging greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; it depletes the ozone layer, as well as trapping heat. A study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, released in late 2019, indicates that N2O emissions increased globally to about twice the amount reported to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, with considerable increases since 2009; it’s estimated that N2O comprises about 10 percent of warming GHGs, with CO2 contributing two-thirds. Nitrous oxide traps heat to much higher intensities than CO2, so although its quantities are smaller, its impact is significant. Agriculture is cited as the primary source of human-caused N2O emissions. “These emissions come primarily from using fertilizers to grow food and increasing livestock herds,” notes the study co-author, Eric Davidson, Director and Professor at the Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Since the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric concentrations of nitrous oxide have increased by 16 percent, according to the Integrated Carbon Observation System, a pan-European research organization focused on carbon cycle and GHG data.
It’s estimated that N2O comprises about 10 percent of warming GHGs, with CO2 contributing two-thirds. BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
G20 ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT CARDS SHOW VARIED PROGRESS The Brown to Green Report 2019 by Climate Transparency covers 80 indicators to evaluate G20 countries and their progress towards a net-zero emissions economy. Using data from 2018, it ranks the best and worst countries – with Canada scoring second-highest in per capita emissions from passenger transport, which contributes 30 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions. Canada also has the highest energy supply per capita and the third most energy-intensive economy in the G20. The report also suggests that the country’s nitrous oxide emissions (mainly from fertilizers and manure) need to be reduced by 10 percent by 2030 and by 20 percent by 2050. According to the report, France and Brazil are the leaders in overall clean energy use (including renewables and nuclear), with Brazil ranking significantly higher than any other country for renewable energy sources. Australia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. scored among the highest for GHG emissions, at 21.8, 20.6 and 18.1 tonnes of CO2e per capita, respectively; the G20 average is eight tonnes. Canada was also among the highest, with 18.9 tonnes of CO2e per capita. The lowest was India, with 1.9 tonnes per capita. Detailed country reports can be viewed at: climate-transparency.org.
A report signed by 13,324 scientists to date (and growing) – including more than 400 from Canada, and representatives from 156 countries – was published by BioScience in late 2019, warning that a climate emergency is apparent, based on a series of data sets. Among the recommended action items, food supply is one of six areas of focus. The report states: “Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products...can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions. Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much-needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions. Cropping practices such as minimum tillage that increase soil carbon are vitally important. We need to drastically reduce the enormous amount of food waste around the world.” Further information can be found at the Alliance of World Scientists website (hosted by Oregon State University): scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu.
Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products... can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions. – Alliance of World Scientists report
10 INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS FOR WORLDWIDE FOOD SECURITY Many non-profit organizations and research teams are tackling the issue of food security, on local and national/international levels. These are just a few worth noting: •A rava Institute for Environmental Studies: In Israel, this academic hub is focused on the preservation of arid lands and their natural resources in the Middle East. •B arilla Center for Food & Nutrition: A recent publication by this multidisciplinary organization, Food & Cities (developed with the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact), reports that cities will play a critical role in future food supplies. “Climate change impacts on agricultural systems are becoming more visible, yet harder to estimate,” it states. “The challenges our global food system is facing today are unprecedented.” •C rop Trust: This international organization is working to safeguard crop diversity, securing more than 980,000 varieties in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – the world’s largest collection. The vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops, or a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds; it is maintained at -18ºC, with low humidity, to keep the seeds viable for long periods of time. •F ood Recovery Network: This foundation has rescued more than 3.9 million pounds of food since 2011, with 230 chapters throughout the U.S. •G lobal Alliance for the Future of Food: Among several initiatives, this organization is urging a reduction of up to 30 percent in food-systemsrelated GHG emissions by 2030. •G lobal Forum on Agricultural Research: This multi-stakeholder global forum on agricultural research and innovation works with more than 600 partners, across 13 sectors. • International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems: Working towards a Common Food Policy for the European Union is among many initiatives this group is spearheading, with a focus on agroecology. • North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems: This organization aims to build sustainable food enterprises for Indigenous communities. •W orld Food Programme: This is the food-assistance branch of the UN and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security, providing food assistance to nearly 90 million people each year. •W orld Resources Institute: Tackling a wide range of issues, this foundation’s World Resources Report (published in 2019) identifies many ways to reduce food loss and waste, increase sustainable food production, increase pastureland yields and improve water management.
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CLIMATE EMERGENCY DECLARATION INCLUDES FOOD AS AN URGENT ISSUE
THE UBC FARM RESEARCHERS PROBE THE COMPLEXITIES OF CROP RESILIENCY BY JANA MANOLAKOS PHOTO CREDITS: THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA UBC FARM
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estled in the south corner of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Vancouver campus, a bustling metropolitan academic centre, visitors are often surprised to find a perfect little farm. But this is no ordinary farm. A closer look reveals leading-edge research equipment set up amid fields of crops where scientists in boots and jeans spend their days exploring the complexities of plant and soil resiliency. This living laboratory is the UBC Farm – run by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS), it’s a hub for teaching and research, on the front lines of a sustainable, food-secure future. The impact of climate change on the world’s ecosystems and food production is no doubt one of the greatest challenges of our time. It’s hard to ignore the realities in Canada. From the wildfires that destroyed 1.5 million acres around Fort McMurray in 2016 to heavy rainfalls affecting soy and potato crops in Manitoba’s Red River Valley, dramatic weather patterns are taking their toll on the human food chain.
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Scientists at research stations like the 24-hectare UBC Farm are doing their part to build crop resiliency and food security. Here, 35 researchers are working on 38 active projects. Among them, Sean Smukler is leading a team that’s measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in various crops, trying to identify ways to reduce the damage. Smukler, an associate professor of Applied Biology and Soil Science at UBC, explains, “We also have projects that are focused on how to manage nutrients in the system so that we can produce the most economically effective crop as possible, while being cognizant of some of the environmental impacts.” His team is probing how to increase carbon sequestration in soils, and they recently completed a baseline map of the entire Fraser Valley. As part of this, they took an inventory of the carbon stocks across the valley and quantified the impacts of land use and land management on soil. To extract GHG samples, the team uses a unique system of specially designed auto-chambers, custom built by the department’s biometrology group, together with a Picarro analyzer – a cutting-edge Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometer, that synthesizes the data. To supplement meteorological stations that measure conditions like rain, temperature, pressure and wind speed, most of the affiliated researchers on the farm bring their own equipment or transport their samples to the university’s indoor laboratory spaces. There are plans for a potential new
building that would house additional laboratory amenities, for which discussions are underway with local Indigenous groups that own the land, as well as the university. Laura Morillas, the farm’s research manager, says studies involving soil are critical for plant resiliency. She points to two current projects looking at the benefits of soil microbes. Researchers Cara Haney and Juli Carrillo are finding that some strains can boost a plant’s resiliency, so they are probing exactly which microbes these are and how they can be encouraged to multiply. It can be challenging, says Morillas; “Some microbes may grow well in lab conditions, but when you try to inoculate soil in the field, climatic conditions are going to be much more variable.” The two researchers are also testing whether microbes can help in pest management. Three other projects, funded through the Organic Science Cluster III, are exploring plant varieties that thrive in regional organic farming systems, ecological pest management and efficient use of nutrients in organic farming. It takes an annual operating budget of $1 million to run this little corner
A single handful of soil may contain in excess of 500 species of fungi and potentially more than 50 km of fungal mycelium. There are 10,000 species and a staggering 100 billion individual specimens of bacteria.
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According to the Canada’s Food Price Report 2019, climate change affects the cost of food for Canadians; prices are expected to increase by as much as four percent in 2020, or $487 more over last year.
of research heaven, including revenue from food sales such as its weekly Farmer’s Market, program and research activities, faculty and UBC funding, donations, subsidies and grants. The UBC Farm is supported by several federal, provincial and academic agencies, like CFI, SSHR and NSERC, as well as some private sponsors. To share their research with farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders, the UBC Farm team launched a web platform in 2018 called BC FoodWeb. “It’s basically an online platform for translating research papers that in many cases are difficult to understand,” explains Morillas. The website includes easy-to-understand research briefs for public consumption. The CSFS also recently hired its first data manager. “We are going to face very complicated times, and data sharing is going to be key,” Morillas says. “We cannot be limited and working in our independent silos anymore.” They also introduced a new data sharing protocol to encourage researchers, aided by staff, to post their findings to the university’s central data repository, Dataverse. Moving forward, Morillas says the UBC Farm is looking to transform itself into a long-term social-ecological network that would link research stations across Canada. “For that reason,” she says, “we launched two programs aimed at monitoring biodiversity in agro-ecosystems and water use to help us understand how efficient our irrigation practices are and how to reduce the water footprint of our crops.” For Smukler, who currently serves as chair for the
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Agricultural Climate Adaptation Research Network (ACARN), such national and global collaboration is key. ACARN is a hub for climate change adaptation research, education and extension strategies in the B.C. agriculture sector. Smukler feels B.C. is really leading the way in climate adaptation and he would like to see greater interprovincial collaboration. That’s one reason ACARN was developed. “But on a national scale, I don’t see that happening,” he suggests. ACARN coordinates projects and shares information on weather, soil, crop and pest management data. But it’s far more than that, says Smukler. He warns that climate change is slow and complex, and the public, including the farmers he works with, are not seeing its impact. “We aren’t really doing a good job anticipating future needs. Investment in infrastructure is critical,” Smukler adds. “Because the changes that we’re seeing are so gradual, unless we’re really anticipating what those changes are going to be in 30 years, there’s not really the incentive to make the big investments in infrastructure that need to happen now.” That’s why a primary goal for ACARN is to get information out to stakeholders. “ACARN’s role is to connect not only to farmers, but also to the public and help educate them and get them to realize that this is a problem,” Smukler explains, “and to identify some of the solutions and convey those to the public, as well as to train the next generation of scientists and extension workers.” He believes that because climate change is so complicated, the solutions need to be interdisciplinary. Smukler works with farmers in the delta region of the Fraser River Valley, who pull irrigation from the river. As sea levels rise due to global warming, salt water will move farther up the river at unprecedented distances inland. He notes, “Access to freshwater irrigation may become challenging.” The answer, Smukler says, lies in new infrastructures that respond and safeguard against global forces like droughts and flooding. “For example, flooding has already impacted production in various regions across the country. Some farmers have invested in infrastructure that can ameliorate those floods, like ditching and drainage, but unless there’s infrastructure across the region to move water away from those fields, their investment really doesn’t pay off. “It basically requires an investment from the public, from taxpayers to recognize that this is a shared challenge. My fear is that the taxpayers are not going to be willing to pay for the price of climate change until it’s too late.” According to Smukler, “We’ve got a lot of work to do to change the minds of the public and get them to really appreciate that this is a problem that has to be addressed really quickly here.”
LEON KOCHIAN GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE MATTER
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BY MITCHELL BROWN
fter growing up in San Diego, Leon Kochian headed north in 1978 to University of California’s Berkeley campus to pursue his studies in plant physiology. In 1984, he moved farther north – this time to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY – to spend 30 years at the school’s Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health, where he was the Director of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. When he told his wife a few years ago he had an offer to join the University of Saskatchewan, the joke in their house was that a move to the North Pole must be the next logical step. “It turned out we moved to the sunniest city in Canada from upstate New York, which has the second-greyest city in the U.S. So we traded for sunshine and colder weather, which has not been much of an adjustment,” he says. “We just built our dream house, so we’re planning to stay for a while.” Now a professor in the school’s Departments of Plant Science and Soil Science, Kochian is also the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Global Food Security and Associate Director
of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS), a public-private partnership founded by the university, fertilizer maker Nutrien and the province to help deliver innovation to agriculture. Kochian’s research deals with the molecular biology, physiology and genetics of mineral ion transport and root biology processes as they relate to mineral nutrient acquisition, plant response to abiotic environmental stresses, and the role of root architecture in nutrient acquisition efficiency. Or, as he puts it, “It’s how we can improve crops so that they can adapt to different soil environments and do more with less inputs.” It’s the kind of research he believes is needed now more than ever. “We’re going to need to grow more food in the next 30, 40 years than we’ve grown in the past 10,000 years,” he explains. “When I worked for the U.S. Dept of Agriculture, they said the best kept secret in government is agricultural research. Famines, political unrest – if you want a stable world, then you need to be able to grow more food. And I think we can do it.” Kochian says he chose to specialize in the study of root systems because of the relative lack of knowledge about them compared to other areas of plant biology – “My focus is getting breeders to think about the roots, which they usually can’t see” – but also because efforts to understand plant growth factors like soil toxicity and drought resistance have to centre around understanding the literal roots of the matter. And while the opportunity to build his own team from the ground up to study plants and root systems was a big factor in his decision to relocate to Saskatoon, there’s no denying that the realtor’s motto about location played a big role as well. “This area has the world’s largest aggregation of agriculture and agri-science,” he says, noting GIFS is rapidly becoming a world-class centre for research on crop improvement. He also singled out the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Published 273 papers that have been cited the national research synchrotron facility based in Saskatoon, as one 35,210 times of the advantages of doing his research in the middle of the nation’s breadbasket. The CLS, together with other state-of-the-art imaging Fellow of the American Association tools in the area, is helping researchers digitize desired phenotypes and for the Advancement of Science link them to specific genes in a searchable database – an approach that enables tailored design and breeding of root systems to specific agroMember of the USDA’s Agricultural environments for crops like wheat, barley, lentils and canola. Research Service’s Hall of Fame “Agriculture is big science,” Kochian notes, adding that Canada has become a world power in agriculture science thanks to both government First named to the Thomson Reuters list of and business recognizing its importance. “And it’s not just expanding the different disciplines of biology to work in, but also melding the “Most Influential Scientific Minds” in 2015 biological sciences with the physical sciences. At GIFS and my CERC program, we are integrating computer science, engineering, physics and mathematics with the biological sciences. Agricultural research has become a much more multidisciplinary enterprise.” In recognition of his contributions to that growing field, the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph recently named him the 2019 recipient of the Global Food Innovation Award. Recognizing global research leaders who have made significant contributions to science that helps improve food security for the planet, the award carries with it a $100,000 cash prize. While Kochian is proud of the work he and his colleagues have done to earn this recognition, he admits that he forgot he was in the running. “I was blown away,” he admits, describing the moment he heard the news. “But I had forgotten the university nominated me. I am honored to receive this prestigious award, but I do think it is important that these types of awards help publicize the issue of food security and how important it is to our futures – both Canadians and the rest of the world.” In December, during the award ceremony at the Arrell Food Summit in Toronto, Kochian was featured in a panel discussing strategies needed to develop food systems to feed the world’s growing population in a more sustainable way. And while it meant a plane ride east instead of heading farther north, he was looking forward to talking about his research. “They’ll make me work for the prize,” Kochian laughs, rattling off the events he’s scheduled to attend. “But I’m always up for a chance to talk about food security.”
B I O L A B M AG.C O M
IISD E XP E R I M E N TA L L A KE S A R E A :
WORLD’S LIVING FRESHWATER THE
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
LABORATORY BY SUMEEP BATH, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, IISD EXPERIMENTAL LAKES AREA
B I O L A B M AG.C O M
When it comes to breathtaking vistas, seemingly endless open space and pristine lakes bordered by dense forestland, it’s difficult to compete with northwestern Ontario.
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
t’s little wonder that so many Canadians choose the region to buy holiday homes and cottages, or opt to settle there. Don’t be fooled by its unassuming beauty, however; northwestern Ontario is much more than a scenic destination. In fact, since the late 1960s, just north of Kenora, a group of 58 remote lakes and their watersheds have performed a vital scientific function, revolutionizing the way we research fresh water. This network of lakes – the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area (IISDELA) – has provided the setting for numerous groundbreaking discoveries into what affects our water supplies, resulting in rewritten policies regarding water health around the world. There is no other freshwater research facility like it. Instead of researching the effects of certain pollutants and processes in a laboratory or a test tube, IISD-ELA researchers experiment directly on the lakes themselves, as they exist in nature. With a test tube, isolated factors are observed in an artificial setting, but when a lake is manipulated (for example, by intentionally adding a certain contaminant), the researchers are working with a full ecosystem, and they are able to examine how all aspects of the ecosystem – from the atmosphere to fish populations – respond. We call this “whole-lake experimentation.” Since its inception in 1968, IISD-ELA is the only place in the world these experiments have been conducted on a long-term scale. The site has been researching new and unstudied threats to our water supplies like no one else can. Take phosphorus, for example; IISD-ELA was the first place to discover that it leads to harmful algal blooms in lakes, which in turn led to countries around the world taking steps to reduce the amount of phosphorus, such as that found in our laundry detergents, entering waterways.
Algal blooms are IISD Experimental Lakes Area’s reason for being – the site was originally set up to determine what was causing them. Compelled to act by the growing prevalence of those smelly layers of green sludge on lakes across North America, a group of plucky Canadian scientists successfully convinced the Government of Canada to set aside a few of Canada’s reported millions of lakes for scientific experimentation. By adding different nutrients (phosphorus, nitrogen and carbon) to isolated sections of a lake, researchers determined that phosphorus is indeed the most important limiting nutrient for algal blooms. This groundbreaking discovery helped changed water policy around the world. It is thanks to this research that we have better sewage treatment plants, better water quality guidelines and mandated phosphate-free laundry detergents and dish soaps. These policy changes resulted in fewer algal blooms due to “point source pollution” (where nutrients are released directly into a body of water – in this case, from wastewater
Instead of researching the effects of certain pollutants and processes in a laboratory or a test tube, IISD-ELA researchers experiment directly on the lakes themselves, as they exist in nature.
plants) in lakes such as Lake Erie. In the 1970s and â€™80s, IISD-ELA continued to respond to contemporary threats and concerns about freshwater health, and intentionally acidified a lake over seven years, ultimately proving that acid rain resulted in dramatic impacts on lakes, including the collapse of fish and zooplankton populations. To this day, researchers continue to introduce different elements of nutrients into the experimental lakes to learn more about why and how algal blooms occur, and what we can do to stop them. To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018, the IISD-ELA team returned to one of the first lakes on which research was conducted to see what else it could teach us about the recovery process from acid rain damage. Researchers are now attempting to recolonize the lake with Mysis (a small but important freshwater shrimp that disappeared completely from the lake during the last experiment) to see if the Mysis population can recover, but also to see if it will restore the lake trout population
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BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
that depends heavily on Mysis for sustenance. This case study will be used to determine if Mysis recolonization could be a suitable restoration activity for other lakes across the world that have been affected by acid rain. Despite the progress made, threats to the world’s water supplies have not gone away. And as we start to brace ourselves for the impending impacts of climate change and need to learn about new chemicals and pollutants entering waterways, the IISD Experimental Lakes Area is here to meet those challenges head-on. Think about oil spills, for example. North America has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world – the Keystone Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System – and unfortunately, periodic oil spills from pipelines do occur. That’s why a new large project, taking place at the IISD Experimental Lakes Area in three stages, is setting out to learn more about what oil spills do to freshwater systems. A series of secure enclosures have been set up around one of the lakes, and in them, researchers are performing a series of experiments with real crude oil and “dilbit” (the diluted form of bitumen in which oil is often transported in pipelines) to determine, over a number of years, exactly what happens when oil hits fresh water, how the ecosystem responds and what are the most effective forms of clean-up, or “remediation.” Climate change has been occurring since before the site opened, and before researchers even knew they were studying it. Thanks to the long-term datasets the IISD-ELA has been keeping since 1968 – tracking everything from the temperature of the water to its chemical and physical makeup – we are able to now look back and see the changes to the lakes attributable to climate change. Researchers have found some pretty worrying
results; climate change is resulting in less icy lakes, warmer lakes, darker lakes, smaller fish and reduced fish habitats – all of which are having significant impacts on the health of the lakes and those creatures who reside inside them. IISD-ELA is now embarking on new studies that will explore many of the continually emerging threats to our fresh water. Even cannabis is being considered; since it was legalized for recreational use in Canada last year, there have been many questions about whether usage would increase and how this could affect the environment (including freshwater bodies). New research plans to test how cannabis metabolites that end up in freshwater systems (through excretion from humans) could impact everything in freshwater lakes, from the water chemistry to the health of fish. Similarly, a person would have to be living under a rock for the last few years to have missed the public outcry about plastics in our waters. IISD launched research this year that involves monitoring the existing levels of plastics already in one of its lakes, then will be adding microplastic particles into the same lake over multiple years to evaluate the impact on all aspects of a freshwater lake. The next time you turn on the tap or drink a glass of water, take a second to think about how lucky we are to have a such a unique scientific facility studying how to keep our water clean and free of pollutants – and remember, as you appreciate the majesty of northwestern Ontario, there is much more to the place than meets the eye.
For more information on the IISD Experimental Lakes Area, visit iisd.org/ela.
Past findings and current research
The effects of acid rain: In the 1970s and 1980s, fish populations in hundreds of thousands of lakes in eastern North America and northern Europe were deteriorating. While scientists speculated that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen emissions from coal-fired power plants were responsible, there was inadequate evidence to support this hypothesis. Whole-lake experiments at the IISDELA proved that acid rain, mimicked through the addition of sulfuric acid to lakes, resulted in dramatic impacts on lake food webs, including the collapse of fish populations. Changes were observed at acid concentrations much lower than those shown to be directly toxic to fish in laboratory studies. The findings strongly influenced emission control restrictions in the United States and Canada. Aquaculture (fish farming) effects: Aquaculture is increasingly supplying protein for humans, but its effect on freshwater environments is not well understood. At one IISD-ELA lake, researchers installed an aquaculture cage and stocked it with a high density of rainbow trout and monitored changes of the lake ecosystem. They found significant increases in nutrient delivery to the water and sediments of the lake, and consequently, detectable increases in algae growth in the water. These results suggest that freshwater fish farms can negatively impact lake water quality, and they highlight the need to develop aquaculture legislation focused on reducing the environmental effects of its operations.
How selecting fish for their size could affect their evolution: Many governments around the world regulate the size (and number) of fish that can be harvested from fisheries, in order to protect populations and spawning stocks; this practice is called “size-based management.” Over the next 30 years, IISD is going to explore how size-based management of lake trout – commonly harvested in Canadian fisheries – could actually be affecting how they evolve. Is regulating the size of fish harvesting actually resulting in smaller fish? What impact does that have on the fish populations as a whole? And what role is climate change playing? Learning what a common diabetes drug does to a freshwater lake: Metformin is a drug that is commonly prescribed in North America to treat type 2 diabetes. In 2015, 80 million prescriptions were filled out for metformin in the U.S. alone; currently in Canada, 30 percent of Indigenous adults suffer from type 2 diabetes. Metformin is not broken down in the human body, so an estimated 70 percent is excreted in urine and feces as the active pharmaceutical. The breakdown product, guanylurea, also has been shown to be metabolically active. While the fate and effects of metformin and guanylurea in the environment are not fully understood, some preliminary lab tests show inhibited growth and reproduction in fish exposed to concentrations seen in the environment. Using small limnocorrals, IISD is conducting regular monitoring to learn how metformin and guanylurea impact all levels of the food web, from plants to fish. This research is being carried out in collaboration with the Environment and Climate Change Canada, McMaster University, the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
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IISD-ELA operates a Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program with meteorological, hydrological, water quality and fisheries data collected since 1968 from a number of lakes and their watersheds. Five lakes are monitored under the LTER program; these lakes are set aside and are not manipulated in any way and, as such, are often used as control lakes for the various experiments performed at IISD-ELA. Control lakes are important to verify that the effects of experiments are a result of the manipulation, and not a product of natural variability. Since the LTER lakes are not manipulated, the long-term monitoring program has become increasingly important in identifying how lakes and the animals within the lakes react to subtle changes in climate.
Hormones in the water supply: Waste from sewage treatment plants often contains synthetic estrogen and similar compounds that are known to affect the reproductive health of exposed fish in laboratory studies; however, little is known if this pollution could affect populations of fish or other organisms in the wild. ELA researchers added artificial estrogen to a lake for three years and observed the “feminization” of male fish and altered egg production by female fish, leading to the collapse of resident populations. The decline in numbers of small fish, in particular, resulted in negative effects on organisms not directly affected by the added estrogen. These ecosystem changes persisted long after artificial estrogen was detectable in the lake. The study provides guidance to policy makers about the control of synthetic hormones in wastewaters.
XPERTSEA Using AI to optimize
aquaculture BY MITCHELL BROWN
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
ikael Lefebvre is happy to admit when he signed on with XpertSea a little over a year ago as the chief revenue officer, he didn’t know much about the aquaculture industry or the technological side of farming fish. “I didn’t know anything at all, honestly,” he says with a chuckle. “Food has always been a passion for me, though.” Thanks to him and the other 60-odd employees at the Quebec City–based firm, it’s fair to say there’s a lot more food in the world for everyone to be passionate about. Founded in 2009 by Valérie Robitaille and Cody Andrews, XpertSea developed an AI-driven data management platform that offers fish farmers real-time insights to help make their aquaculture concerns more efficient and sustainable. The platform leverages artificial intelligence to help producers standardize data collection, track growth, improve animal health and optimize harvest decisions. They also can view animal images to detect early signs of disease or deformities, generate optimized feed prescriptions based on real growth and predict best harvest dates based on market prices. Initially, the company was set up to provide solutions for salmon aquaculture, but a call from someone interested in potential applications for the shrimp industry inspired them to see the potential in expanding into the global shrimp market. As a result, XpertSea’s Growth Platform is now the leading farm management solution in the shrimp industry, used at more than 400 facilities in about 50 countries worldwide. In Thailand, for instance, XpertSea was selected to deploy a collaborative farm solution to help manage production risks at shrimp farms across the southeast Asian nation. About 150 shrimp farmers are taking part in the Shrimp Health Resources Improvement Project (SHRImP), a program managed by the U.S. nonprofit Sustainable Fisheries Partnership in collaboration with the Netherlandsbased IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative. “Past experience has shown how devastating the impact of disease outbreaks can be to the industry, costing billions of dollars in lost revenue and growth opportunities,” says Anton Immink, aquaculture program director at the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, adding that XpertSea’s expertise will help reduce the potential impact of disease outbreaks through systems built on improved data collected from – and used by – farms and management agencies. The project's technology components include XperCount, a portable smart device that automatically captures data about organisms; XpertSea’s growth
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The platform leverages artificial intelligence to help producers standardize data collection, track growth, improve animal health and optimize harvest decisions.
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
platform, which allows farmers and field technicians to enter and visualize production data from any mobile device; and a partner platform that provides third parties such as government fisheries departments and universities the ability to securely access and manage the collected data to give advice and insights to farmers. “We really feel like we’re feeding the world, when we’re helping farmers produce more with less,” Lefebvre says. “In the current environment, it’s super important.” That may be an understatement. In 2016, a United Nations report on the state of world fisheries and aquaculture found the need to feed the world’s estimated 10 billion people in 2050 will inevitably rely more and more upon the seafood that humans can raise themselves. As wild fish stocks plummet around the world, aquaculture is picking up the slack, with the industry experiencing a 6 percent annual growth rate and now supplying half of all fish for human consumption, up from 26 percent in 1994. Investors are taking notice, paying particular attention to companies providing technological tools to help farmers increase their output. Last year, XpertSea announced it had raised $10 million in Series A financing, an investment Robitaille said at the time would help XpertSea build up its team and expand its technology offerings, leading to both higher profits for aquaculture producers and positive environmental returns for the planet. Another sign of heightened interest in smart aquaculture was this year’s Aquaculture Awards hosted by Aquaculture UK in Edinburgh, where judges specifically singled out the Technical Innovation category as one of the most hotly contested categories in this year’s awards. Lefebvre and Robitaille were on hand to accept the award on behalf of XpertSea, with Robitaille noting the rising interest in advancing aquaculture is an acknowledgment of the industry’s growing importance as a sustainable source of protein for consumers. Indeed, Lefebvre sees aquaculture’s increasing productivity as a rising tide that lifts all boats in the industry – and companies like his, those that provide fish farms of all sizes with the analytical tools they need to stay on top of their stock, will be in a good position to ride the wave. “We’re barely just scratching the surface,” he says, adding that the company is exploring the potential in working with other species, including trout and sea bass. “We have a lot of resources to build upon here [in Canada]. There’s a lot of knowledge that we can export around the world. And you know, it’s so humbling and rewarding when you meet a farmer in a remote place in India, and he tells us he’s making more money with the tools we gave him.”
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TECHNOLOGY AND VERTICAL FARMING ARE TRANSFORMING HOW WE PRODUCE FOOD
BY MITCHELL BROWN
B I O L A B M AG.C O M
ocated at the corner of Bathurst and Dundas streets in Toronto’s west end, Scadding Court Community Centre is a busy place. Outside its front doors, retrofitted shipping containers house locally owned shops and food kiosks serving delicious street fare reflective of the neighbourhood’s breathtaking diversity; inside, staff and volunteers deliver everything from tai chi and cooking classes to newcomer settlement programs to area residents. The centre is buzzing with activity for most hours of the day, and in both form and function it’s about as urban as urban living gets in Canada – which makes it a little surprising to walk inside and find yourself standing next to a fully functioning fish farm. “People are coming from all over to check out the community centre,” says executive director Herman Ellis, adding the centre has hosted visitors from as far away as Finland and Germany who come to see their operation. “It’s one of the oldest technologies on the planet, but the fact we have it here, in the middle of a community centre – that makes it innovative.” Scadding Court has a long history of promoting food access and security. It prides itself on being one of the first community centres in Canada to rip up its lawns in the 1980s to create a community garden (“The city came on board when we told them they don’t have to come cut our grass anymore,” Ellis quips), and about five years ago it launched Aquaponics 707, a closedloop system in which plants and fish are grown side by side without the use of soil “A lot of the produce or pesticides, while monitoring tools alert centre staff to any changes in growing conditions. we’ve grown just Right now, the centre grows a variety of herbs and lettuces (in addition to plants isn’t available on the grown as fish food), alongside massive tanks teeming with tilapia. The fish and market up here. We produce are then sold to community members and local businesses supportive of have different types of sustainable farming methods, with the profits from those sales pumped back into the centre’s programs. fruits and vegetables: But as Ellis notes, the perks of having a working fish farm in the middle of radishes, onions, Canada’s largest city go well beyond the financial benefits. “This is a public space, strawberries, leeks...” not something that’s housed behind big walls in a warehouse at the edge of the city,” Ellis says, explaining that part of the project’s purpose is to make it a showcase for – Stephanie Cook, urban farming that might inspire others to do the same. “Most people who come here OCN Smart Farm, [to see it] say they can’t believe it – but it’s there.” Operations Manager Meanwhile, about 2,700 km to the northwest, another indoor farming project is delivering fresh produce to residents of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, just across the river from The Pas, Manitoba. Located about a six hours’ drive north of Winnipeg, the community was struggling with the same kinds of food security issues that are common throughout Canada’s northern and Indigenous communities. In 2015, they partnered with Korea Agriculture Systems Technology to create an all-season vertical farm within an existing community hall, with the University of Manitoba on board to conduct research into the project’s impact on community health. The first seeds were planted in February 2016; since then, OCN Smart Farm has produced more than 70 varieties of plants, with the harvests helping to supplement the diets of residents whose options for fresh produce are limited because of income levels and where they live. “A lot of the produce we’ve grown just isn’t available on the market up here,” says operations manager Stephanie Cook. “We have different types of fruits and vegetables: radishes, onions, strawberries, leeks – 17 types of lettuce! I’ve been introduced to 30 types of produce I never even knew existed. Now I go to
the grocery store and I’m comparing, ‘Okay, if we put that on the market, how much would we sell that for?’” The “smart” part of the OCN Smart Farm comes from the technology used to grow the plants inside the facility. Red, green and blue LED lights – with options to control UV and infrared light, plus other settings – are used to mimic sunshine. A computer controls temperature and moisture in the room while monitoring carbon dioxide and nutrient levels for each plant species. Very little water is wasted in the soil-free environment, with about 90 per cent recycled through the system. As one of the people who was involved in the project from the very beginning, Cook is an enthusiastic ambassador for the project, noting the impact it’s already having on health levels in a place where roughly half of residents are diabetic. While university researchers study the role that fresh produce can play in improving community health, Cook and her team are focused on fine-tuning their processes and experimenting with different varieties while they collect data that demonstrates how their set-up can be replicated in other remote communities. “After all the years of research, we’ve discovered that because we’re so fresh, we can be four to eight times more nutritious than grocery store vegetables,” she said. “There’s enough of a need out there to sell and share this technology with other outlying communities.”
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
Canada is big on agriculture. The sector contributes about $110 billion annually to the nation’s GDP and employs one in eight Canadians – figures that help make us, despite our relatively small population on a global scale, the fifth-largest agricultural exporter in the world. These numbers are even more impressive when you realize our northern climate and challenging geography means that only about five per cent of the nation’s landmass is cultivated for farming – and even those arable lands are feeling the pressures of climate change and urban encroachment. Small wonder, then, that Canadians are at the forefront of figuring out new ways to grow more food more efficiently in more places, whether it’s community centres, northern climes… or pretty much anywhere you can set up a building. In a business park surrounded by some of Ontario’s richest farmland, one of Guelph’s newest ventures is a fully automated vertical farm, a 45,000-sq.ft. facility that can produce greens like broccoli, pea shoots and arugula from seed to sprout in less than a week. Founded in 2011, GoodLeaf Farms established its pilot test farm in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 2015. With the help of researchers from Halifax’s Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, the company used years of data gleaned from developing new varieties and growing techniques to break ground at its Guelph facility in March 2019. GoodLeaf began selling product through Loblaws and Sobeys stores in August and Juanita Moore, its executive director of operations, believes this is only the beginning for vertical farming in Canada given the advantages it provides over more traditional farming methods. “It’s a very controlled environment,” she says, adding that no human hands touch the product at any point in the process. “It’s pesticide-free, and we have more control from a safety perspective. We’re always testing in-house to make sure the product is safe before it goes to market.” While vertical farms require more electricity to run than traditional farms, Moore says that impact is offset by the much smaller transportation footprint and total elimination of fertilizers and pesticides from the growing cycle: “I really believe this is the future of farming. There's only so much land, and it's important that we find ways to make our land more effective.”
“I really believe this is the future of farming. There’s only so much land, and it’s important that we find ways to make our land more effective.” – Juanita Moore, Director of Operations, GoodLeaf Farms
Year-round availability, fresher product, reduced labour costs through automation, and reduced pressure on our land and water resources are additional reasons for incorporating more technology in our food production, says Youbin Zheng, a professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences; although, he adds, there are some potential challenges for vertical farming as well: “It can be energyintense – for lighting, etc. – and you need more skilled labour. Plus, we’re not able to grow all foods efficiently [in vertical farms], like grains such as wheat.” Bringing the benefits of smart farming out into the field (literally) is what institutions like Olds College intend to do. Established in 1913 as an agricultural college about 90 km north of Calgary, the school launched its smart farm on 110 acres in the summer of 2018 to help industry, students and researchers develop “smart connected” technologies for crop farming. (The school added to this acreage earlier The same types of wires this year with a generous donation of and circuits that allow, almost 320 acres in nearby Carstairs, say, a self-monitoring Alberta – land that the school will use to expand its smart farm research.) home to become more Stationary soil monitors, digital energy-efficient can be weather stations, wireless grain bin used to collect data on sensors, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) temperature, humidity, and a wireless mesh network providing WiFi to the entire farm are some of the wind speed, pest high-tech tools used to help students infestation, soil content and researchers gather data and make – any factor that might evidence-based decisions to improve affect growing conditions field productivity and sustainability. While all this technology may seem for crops or livestock out of place to folks who aren’t involved raised either indoors or in the day-to-day business of growing out in the field. our food, the truth is that farmers have been on the cutting edge longer than you might think. “Technology and innovation have always been inherent in agriculture,” says James Benkie, dean of agriculture technology at Olds College, pointing out that even the humble tractor was at one point a technological leap forward for the agricultural sector. But what we’re starting to see more and more in the past decade, Benkie says, is agricultural producers coming on board with the idea of “the internet of things,” the catch-all phrase for systems of interrelated computing devices, mechanical machines and objects or animals that collect and transfer data over networks – data that can be used to help farmers make decisions faster and more efficiently. The same types of wires and circuits that allow, say, a self-monitoring home to become more energyefficient can be used to collect data on temperature, humidity, wind speed, pest infestation, soil content – any factor that might affect growing conditions for crops or livestock raised either indoors or out in the field. For Olds, adopting this forward-looking approach to agriculture is attracting attention. The first phase of the project attracted over $1 million in cash contributions from 14 industry partners, with several projects being developed in its first four months. In addition, in August the federal government announced $1.9 million in funding to help Olds College hire more technical specialists and buy agricultural equipment and advanced sensor technologies for the Smart Farm’s Phase 2. About
$10,000 of that went to support AgSmart 2019, an event hosted by Olds College this past summer that introduced farmers, students and academics to cattle-ranching drones, robotic farm equipment and other cutting-edge developments in agriculture technology. If all this innovation seems a bit head-spinning, that’s a normal response to rapid change – but it doesn’t mean things are going to get any less dizzying in the coming years. The United Nations reports that the world will have to increase global food production by 50 percent over the next 30 years to feed the estimated two billion more of us that will be on the planet by 2050; governments, industry and agricultural leaders are going to be very motivated in the coming years to find every advantage they can to keep up with demand. Because of this, there’s every reason to believe the agricultural sector – despite its idyllic image in most peoples’ minds – is poised to become the section of the economy that will experience the most drastic technological transformation in the coming decades. “The industrial revolution is now coming to farming and we’re seeing more technology coming to the field,” Moore says. “I’m very excited by what we’ve already been able to do and also by how much more opportunity lies in front of us.” Cook echoes that excitement, having seen for herself the transformation within her own community after just a few short years of her farm’s operation. And while she has big dreams about seeing remote and Indigenous communities all over the map become more self-sufficient through the power of “smart” agriculture, she’s also happy to focus on the smaller victories along the way. “Right now, though, one of my biggest tasks is getting children to eat more produce,” she admits. “If I can get my five-year-old to eat his romaine lettuce and carrots, that’s a step in the right direction.”
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SENSORS IN NEW DIGITAL IMAGING CAMERAS OFFER BETTER PERFORMANCE ZEISS introduces four new high-quality CMOS cameras for digital imaging in light microscopy. Leading-edge sensors that boost colour rendition and range enable the delivery of powerful image quality from ZEISS Axiocam 705 colour and 712 colour, ideal for histology, pathology or material research and analysis. ZEISS Axiocam 705 mono and 712 mono work well for fluorescence live-cell imaging with fast frame rates and high dynamic range. Their extended nearIR sensitivity allows for deeper insights into sample structures. Small 3.45 µm pixels, low noise and the USB 3.0 platform support fast imaging experiments while maintaining excellent signal quality. ZEISS.com
MAKING REAL-TIME LIVE CELL ANALYSIS BETTER THAN EVER ACEA Bioscience’s xCELLigence Real Time Cell Analyzer (RTCA) eSight enables comprehensive insight into cell health, behaviour, function and biology processes using live, simultaneous and real-time biosensor impedancebased and image-based measurements. The eSight system combines the label-free xCELLigence RTCA technology with live cell imaging in three colours (red, green and blue), generating data on cell health, strength of adhesion, changes in morphology, proliferation and cytolysis in primary cell cultures, or standard tissue culture cell lines. It provides bright-field capabilities, three fluorescence channels, a plethora of well plate formats, the capability of user-defined schedules and the ability to read a 96-well plate in 15 seconds. aceabio.com/products/rtca-esight
AWARD-WINNING PROFILING SYSTEM LETS USERS JUST ADD A SAMPLE AND GO Named Best New Cell Biology Product of 2019 by the Life Science Industry Awards, Fluidigm’s Maxpar Direct Immune Profiling System includes a 30-marker antibody panel developed with input from expert academic and biopharma immunologists. Provided in a dry format in ready-to-use assay tubes, it enables researchers to easily analyze immune phenotypes from PBMC or directly from whole blood using a simple single-tube workflow. Designed for flexibility, the instrument allows researchers to easily add new antibodies to the panel to support specific study goals. Automated results reporting and quality assessment is completed in just five minutes using the Maxpar Pathsetter software. fluidigm.com/reagents/proteomics/201325-maxpardirect-immune-profiling-assay
B I O L A B M AG.C O M
PACBIO POWERS UP GENETIC DISCOVERY WITH AWARDWINNING INSTRUMENT
NEW PEPTIDE SYNTHESIS PLATFORM OVERCOMES EVEN THE MOST CHALLENGING SEQUENCES Gyros Protein Technologies AB recently unveiled its nextgeneration automated peptide synthesis platform, PurePep Chorus. The new scalable instrument and software platform enables production of even the most challenging sequences at the highest possible crude purity and yield, and includes the ability to program the next synthesis while the apparatus is running. The flexible system can be purchased with, or lab-upgraded to include, two, four or six channels, with independent induction heating and real-time UV monitoring on two or more channels. It also eliminates the need for priming while minimizing waste when using special amino acids and reagents. gyrosproteintechnologies.com
NEXT GENERATION OF BENCHTOP X-RAY DIFFRACTION INSTRUMENT HITS THE MARKET
Rigaku’s sixth-generation MiniFlex benchtop X-ray diffraction instrument was introduced last fall, promoting its capabilities for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of polycrystalline materials. As a multipurpose powder diffraction analytical instrument, it can determine crystalline phase identification (phase ID) and quantification, percent (%) crystallinity, crystallite size and strain, lattice parameter refinement, Rietveld refinement and molecular structure. The instrument is designed to deliver speed and sensitivity with such innovative technology as the HyPix-400 MF 2D hybrid pixel array detector (HPAD) coupled with a 600 W X-ray source and eight-position automatic sample changer. It’s powerful, yet simple to install. rigaku.com/products/xrd/miniflex
LIST OF ADVERTISERS & WEBSITES
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MOBILE PERISTALTIC SAMPLING PUMP PUSHES PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD Cole-Parmer’s new Masterflex L/S portable sampling pump is ideal for rugged or remote pumping applications like ponds and lake sampling or feed runoff sampling. It’s also suitable for use in environmental testing labs and anywhere a portable sampling pump is required. An easy-load pump head enables faster tubing changes and flow stability. The variable-speed drive has a top speed of 400 rpm, allowing the operator to adjust the flow rate to the needs of the application. It can run up to four hours on the self-contained 12V DC rechargeable battery, or indefinitely from any AC or 12V DC power supply. masterflex.com
Âť The science of food and beverage WINTER 2019-20
Crickets are the first frontier in eco-friendly protein
ALL ABOUT HALAL
Nutraceuticals How to enter the market
THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIGENOUS
Kathleen A. Merrigan
CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
participated in one of the famous Terra Madre Slow Food meetings in Italy years ago. At the opening ceremony, Indigenous peoples from around the world formed a procession through the venue, donning traditional wear and carrying objects of significance to their communities. It was beautiful and exciting but more importantly, it was a poignant reminder of the wisdom of Indigenous knowledge. Every year, I become more convinced that if we are to meet the challenges of extreme climate change and transform food systems so that they are resilient and equitable, we must listen to Indigenous communities, stand with them and include them in decision making on land that they have sustained for thousands of years. Many people are excited about the potential for innovation in agtech and I count myself among them. Yet in our rush to Silicon-Valley-ify our food system, we have overlooked the urgency to better understand, honour, safeguard, preserve and transmit traditional knowledge. I suspect that in the United States, more money was poured into the MIT Food Computer, which turned out to be a hoax, than was invested in preservation of landraces curated by Indigenous peoples and understanding their protocols against overharvesting of species. Three current events suggest a new opportunity to elevate and amplify Indigenous voices to help us achieve more sustainable food systems. First, at least as far back as the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity, governments have recognized Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of, and contributions to, the protection of biodiversity. The full promise of that Convention has yet to be realized, as scant resources have been devoted to its implementation. That may be changing: In September 2019 at the UN Climate Action Summit, Emmanuel Farber, CEO of Danone – citing pressure from Generation Z consumers – announced that 19 giant companies have pledged to work together to protect biodiversity. This is great! Second, soil is in the headlines. Native Americans have long championed three sister planting and other practices that build healthy soil, but until recently, soil building was not on the policy agenda in any significant way. Now, even American presidential candidates are advocating for regenerative agriculture and elevating the importance of soil health, while at the same time public and private sector leaders are working to establish carbon markets to reward soil sequestration. Exciting! Third, there is a new focus among sustainable agriculture advocates on strategies to address food justice, entrenched inequalities and social inclusion. At the same time, the
American Indian Agricultural Fund, established by settlement monies from resolution of the class-action lawsuit Keepseagle v. Vilsack over historic USDA discrimination, is distributing its first round of grants to help Native American farmers and ranchers. Terrific! I will now say something that I have never said before: The more meetings, the better! It is time for all of us to find ways to raise Indigenous voices and confront issues of food sovereignty. There are some good recent efforts to note. In 2018, the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN held its first High Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Food Systems, Building on Traditional Knowledge to Achieve Zero Hunger. Last fall in Japan, Slow Food hosted Indigenous leaders from 27 countries to discuss the contributions of traditional knowledge to sustainable food systems, climate change and world hunger. Following up on this, Slow Food will host an Indigenous Peoples Terra Madre for the Americans in Mexico in February 2020. For our part, the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University collaborated with the University of Hawaii and FoodTank to host a FoodTank Summit on the “Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways” this January in Tempe, Arizona. Topics included the importance of local agriculturally derived knowledge, seed sovereignty, wild foods and contemporary Indigenous gastronomy. For more information, visit our website: foodsystems.asu.edu. Biodiversity, healthy soils and food justice – all topics on the agenda for which Indigenous peoples have insights and can teach traditional wisdom to academics like me, along with business leaders, politicians and sustainable agriculture advocates. A recent interview with Kathleen Merrigan can be found at: foodtank.com/news/2020/01/the-wisdom-of-indigenousfoodways-podcast Dr. Kathleen Merrigan is the executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University (ASU). She came to ASU after four years as Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, and from 2009-2013, Dr. Merrigan served as U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $150-billion, 110,000-employee institution. As Deputy Secretary, Dr. Merrigan created and led the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to support local food systems, was a key architect of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and made history as the first woman to chair the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
BUG By Jana Manolakos
The answer to feeding the world may be hopping around your backyard enough food to feed the planet’s rapidly expanding population has experts worried. Simply put, with more people on the planet, more agriculture is needed to grow enough food – and that, in turn, plays havoc with the environment. But for some, there’s a solution right in their own backyards where insects are hopping to the rescue, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources. In 2013, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released a report, “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security,” warning that without insects in the human food chain, the planet may be in big trouble. The report says that currently 1 billion people are chronically hungry and it cautions that by 2050, with the world’s population climbing to 9.7 billion people, current food production will need to double. A majority of people in many parts of the world already consume insects, with some 1,900 species on the menu including beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants. Entomophagy, a technical term describing the practice of eating insects, is also gaining traction in Europe and in the U.S., largely driven by concerns over personal health and climate change.
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en·to·moph·a·gy /ˌen(t)əˈmäfəjē/ Noun the practice of eating insects, especially by people.
But in Canada, where growing conditions support a variety of other meat alternatives like beans and peas, consumers are still reluctant to consider insects. That may be changing, says British Columbia’s Patricia Chuey, a registered dietitian and award-winning food communications expert. “As we become increasingly aware of environmental protection and food sustainability, many are looking at ways to get equivalent protein in our diet while using fewer resources,” she explains.
Gaining a foothold in Canada’s food chain
CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
Although the industry is still in its infancy, major grocers like Loblaws are helping insects gain a foothold in Canada’s food chain. Last March, Loblaws introduced cricket powder to its line of President’s Choice foods. Loblaws VP of Product Development and Innovation, Kathlyne Ross says, “By making products like cricket powder widely available in our grocery stores, we are giving Canadians the option to not only try something new, but to also make a conscious decision on what they eat and how it impacts the environment.” In sourcing its cricket powder, Loblaws joined forces with Norwood-based Entomo Farms, which launched eight years ago and is one of the oldest and largest cricket farms in North America. It also recently sold a minority stake in its company to Maple Leaf Foods, yet another sign that six-legged protein is on its way. According to Jarrod Goldin, Entomo Farm’s CEO and a company founder, the market is fuelled by the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) consumer, the fastestgrowing food consumer segment in North America. He says these consumers are defined by their understanding of the impact that food has on their health, their longevity and the planet. Crickets, like other insects, contain fibres, such as chitin, that are different from the dietary fibre found in foods like fruits and vegetables. Fibre serves as a microbial food source, and some fibre types promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics. Some studies have shown that consuming crickets can help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and that eating crickets is not only safe at high doses but may also reduce inflammation in the body. Other studies point to crickets offering more digestible mineral content – like iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium – than even sirloin beef. Goldin suggests that some insect species may even offer eight times the antioxidants found in oranges. He’s a big
proponent of research, and his company regularly engages the scientific community. Entomo is currently collaborating in a multi-year study with Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario. Funded by an Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and NSERC grant, the study aims to determine optimal storage and a “best before” date of Entomo’s cricket powder product. In its first year, the research found that the powder did not show any significant signs of deterioration. Goldin believes this may have something to do with certain protein peptides found in crickets and suggests the powder may be useful as a natural means of extending the shelf life of other foods.
A star of sustainable agriculture
According to the FAO, crickets need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. They require significantly less water than cattle rearing and they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. That makes this mini-livestock a star of sustainable agriculture. Entomo Farms consists of three 20,000-sq.ft. retrofitted chicken barns, each holding cardboard cricket “condos” that house approximately 35 million crickets. With a total cricket count of over 100 million, Goldin believes his farm may be the largest in the world. Plus, he notes, “from an animal welfare perspective, there’s no cruelty associated with how the insects are kept or the husbandry itself.” And there’s another benefit to farming these little critters: “frass,” a mix of feces and cricket exoskeletons. The crickets in each of the three barns produce about 6,000 pounds of frass per month. For Goldin, it’s a gold mine for a supercharged fertilizer that some studies show can produce exponentially higher harvests. He recalls a study out of Trent University looking at dose responses on hayfields that found the ideal amount of natural frass fertilizer increased their yield by 400 percent. While many insect-based products source their crickets out of South Korea and Thailand, more crickets entering the Canadian market are coming from growers closer to home. Toronto-based Fit Cricket gets its supply from a farm south of the border. It’s one of only a handful of companies that sell insect-based food products. Company owner Angela Kelly says she prefers her supplier over others because of the taste of their crickets, a common species known as Acheta domesticus. She agrees with Chuey, who says that “consumers will initially be more accepting of insect-based flours and protein
Whether the bugs come from Thailand or from a farm in B.C., regulations governing insects in Canada are still in the early stage of development. “There’s been a really inconsistent response between regulators in the various parts of the world relating to whether insects or certain types of insects are salable.”
It becomes more complex when unusual powders for use in such foods as baked or novel insects are introduced, he goods and smoothies, before embracing explains, because under the Food and eating dried insects straight up.” Drugs Act and Regulations, all novel foods In fact, Kelly refers to crickets and must be assessed by Health Canada before cricket powder as the “gateway bug” they can be sold in our country. – it’s an ideal starter to a cornucopia For Kelly and Fit Cricket, Canadians of edible insects, she says, which – Glenford Jameson, Toronto-based have to move beyond the “ick” factor and her customers have compared to the lawyer specializing in food law teacher, embrace the health value: “With all of taste of roasted sunflower seeds or Michigan State University that great taste, nutritional profile and chickpeas. Fit Cricket works out of a environmental standpoint, I think people food incubator’s space that recently are willing to give this a chance.” opened in downtown Toronto; it’s run by District Ventures Kitchens, whose founder is Arlene Dickinson, the well-known businesswoman and Dragon’s Den Crickets products sold in Canada star (interviewed in the Winter 2018/19 BioLab Business). Bite Snacks bitesnacks.com Whether the bugs come from Thailand or from a farm in CrikNutrition criknutrition.com B.C., regulations governing insects in Canada are still in the Fit Cricket Nutrition fitcricket.com early stage of development. Glenford Jameson, a TorontoGubgub earthproofprotein.com based lawyer who specializes in food law and teaches at Inspro Foods insprofoods.com Michigan State University, explains, “There's been a really inconsistent response between regulators in the various parts Landish landish.co of the world relating to whether insects or certain types of Näak naakbar.com insects are salable.” Because entomophagy is relatively new Tottem Nutrition tottemnutrition.co to Canadian consumers, regulators are being careful to ensure uKa Protéine ukaproteine.com health safety. “There are certain insects or breeds that are very Yes Crickets yescrickets.com well known and I think we’re comfortable with,” says Jameson. “There are also millions of insects that may not have that history of safe use.” He says that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is primarily concerned with ensuring edible insects From fast food chains to grocery stores, consumer interest in do not present a risk to Canadians in terms of how rearing and plant-based protein options is leading to a boom in alternative processing facilities control against microbiological pathogens. meats. Long-established vegetarian brands – like Yves Veggie Cuisine, which has been around for over 20 years – are facing stiffer competition from newer alternatives, some of which, like Beyond Burger, are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. In the dairy industry, non-dairy alternatives are also experiencing growth. In response to these market forces and consumer concerns, industry leaders are rolling out a range of products and ingredients using different plant-based proteins like soy and pea, “mini-livestock” like insects and lab-grown meats cultured from animal or fungal cells.
On August 5, 2013, the world’s first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten at a news conference in London to some culinary acclaim for its texture and robust flavour. Scientists
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New Frontiers in Meat Alternatives
from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, led by professor Mark Post, had taken stem cells from a cow and grown them into strips of muscle, which they then combined to make a burger. In 2017, the Good Food Institute released a map for “clean” or cultured meat, which it says allows consumers to maintain their dietary preferences for animal meat while removing many of the harmful aspects of current meat production. Cellular agriculture, it says, requires far less land and water than conventional meat, will produce exponentially less climate change and eliminates the severe environmental repercussions of animal waste and contamination via runoff.
Crickets, mealworms, grasshoppers and other insects have been touted as “superfoods” for a few years now – high in protein, they have low environmental impact and can be farmed almost anywhere. The consumption of edible insects has a long history in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in eating edible insects in Europe and North America. Consequently, a growing number of edible insect products have become available to Canadians, such as dried whole insects, insect powder and insect-containing snacks (e.g., chips, crackers and cookies). More research into human consumption of insects is needed to understand the potential health benefits.
Jackfruit CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
With its roots in the hot, humid climate of India’s rainforest, jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, reaching 80 pounds and up to 36 inches long and 20 inches in diameter. The nobby exterior of the fruit is green or yellow when ripe, while the interior consists of large edible bulbs of yellow, bananaflavored flesh that can be cooked in curries, fried or even made into jam. Jackfruit is low in fat and saturated fat. The fibrous flesh has similarities in texture to meat; however, it isn’t a source of protein, so shouldn’t be a direct meat replacement. It’s a source of important micronutrients, such as vitamin C, for immune function, and potassium for maintaining blood pressure and muscle function.
Mycoprotein is a unique and nutritious protein that is high in fibre, low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. Its principal ingredient is fusarium venenatum, one of the largest groups within the fungi family, which also includes truffles and morels. It is one of a genus of filamentous fungi, meaning it is comprised of a web of finely spun strands. Mycoprotein was
created in the 1980s and is produced through fermentation of biological feedstock. Fungi contain approximately 40 percent protein, are high in fiber, have limited carbohydrates and contain no cholesterol.
In his blog, renowned chef Jamie Oliver describes seitan as having “a solid, firm texture” useful for “faux meat” products such as mince, burgers and kebabs. Unlike other vegan, soybased, protein-filled substitutes like tofu and tempeh, seitan is made from the development of gluten in the wheat dough. According to Oliver, “The nutritional profile of seitan depends on the other ingredients within each product. In the case of seitan burgers, this is often wheat flour, pea or soy protein, and flavourings.”
Soy, pea and chickpea
Widely used in meat-free burgers and protein powders, this alternative is the most popular among consumers – and has been for years. Rich in protein, soybeans can be used to make food products such as tofu, soy milk and various dairy and meat substitutes. Soybean is an herbicide-tolerant crop, which significantly limits the need to plow fields to remove weeds.
Since 2010, researchers like biologist Ronald Osinga from Wageningen University in the Netherlands have postulated that large-scale cultivation of sea lettuce can help reduce acidification of the oceans – and help solve the global food supply problem. Osinga and his colleagues calculated that a “marine garden” of 180,000 km2 could provide enough protein for the entire world population. A sea lettuce bed of such gigantic proportions would raise the pH (acidity level) of the Mediterranean Sea by one tenth. Seaweed is high in protein and contains important micronutrients – especially iodine, which contributes to the normal production of thyroid hormones and thyroid function.
By some reports, the global nutraceuticals market is expected to be worth more than US$550 billion by 2025
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How to Enter the Nutraceuticals Market
By Dr. Michael I. Lindinger, PhD, President, The Nutraceutical Alliance
nutraceuticals market provides nutritional-type products that have healing effects, therapeutic effects (“ceutical effects”) or that support health in ways beyond the effects attributed to nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, water and foods. Nutraceuticals can be topical or oral, and are used both to treat and to prevent various conditions of unwellness. People love nutraceuticals because: 1. They are natural; 2. They are a drug alternative; 3. They have traditionally not been connected to big pharma (but that is changing rapidly); 4. People get the sense that they are doing something helpful to keep or make their body well. First, let’s talk about “natural.” Many people wrongly equate “natural” and/ or “organic” with terms like safe, good, beneficial, non-toxic – but these are misconceptions. Most – yes, most – natural products have the potential to be very harmful. One must learn which are beneficial, and in what quantities; processing a natural substance has a large influence on function and safety, so if you are thinking of getting into nutraceuticals, be careful and be insured. The global nutraceuticals market is sizable already (more than US$383 billion in 2017, expected to grow to over US$560 billion by 2023, according to Thomasnet.com), and it’s expected to double in sequential five-year periods. How can newcomers enter the market? There are already thousands of products in the marketplace, but there are not really very many different types of products, i.e. there are a lot of “knockoffs” or copycat products. The only way a newcomer can compete if they are interested in producing similar products is by ensuring better quality and/or a lower price for the consumer, coupled with excellent marketing. As is generally true, however, you get what you pay for; high-quality products will cost more, but many consumers are not willing to pay for quality. Low-quality products often lack physiologically meaningful effects (i.e., they do not work as intended) – but if a consumer believes it may help, then sometimes it might, through a placebo effect. Thousands of excellent nutraceutical ingredients are available, but evidence-based scientific research is important because it shows (not “proves,” because the result is specific to
the conditions of the research) that an ingredient may work, how it may work, if it works on the intended target (human or animal) and if it is safe in the target species at the levels where beneficial effects occur. Is it safe both in the short-term (acute safety) and in the long-term (chronic safety)? A company providing nutraceutical products needs to be able to demonstrate both function and safety. It is for this reason that many companies opt for the route of contracting manufacturers that provide a line of generic nutraceutical products sold to different companies under different labels, letting these companies vie with each other for market share. The winner is the contract manufacturer, and the contract manufacturer with the greatest number of innovative products with unique selling points will be the biggest winner.
According to Thomasnet.com, the global nutraceuticals market is sizable already (more than US$383 billion in 2017, expected to grow to over US$560 billion by 2023
CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
Where to start
So, is there a way to get into the marketplace with a product that is safe, that works and that is truly unique, while protecting that product for the period of time needed to carve out your share of the market? The answer is yes. There are three main ways: 1. Contract manufacturers (most good ones have inhouse design and regulatory teams); a company may have the ability to obtain an exclusive license (costly) for unique product(s) for a fixed period of time. 2. Do it yourself – which some try, but there are usually areas in the pipeline between “concept” and “consumer” for which expertise is lacking. For example, if there is good evidence that the product works, how do you determine if it is safe in the way that regulators require? Or does it need to have regulatory approval prior to going to market? If regulatory approval is needed, then how is regulatory approval obtained? Will you be able to make the claims that you want to make? (The answer to that question is usually “no,” so other marketing strategies need to be created.) 3. Partner with a contract research organization (CRO) that helps companies and individuals with conceptto-consumer (C2C) product development. This type of approach can be performed completely by the CRO, but more often is a partnership on one or more levels. For example, the
CRO is approached by a company with an idea to use a specific ingredient, or combination of ingredients, to exert a specific effect; it is the companyâ€™s idea, but they need help to answer one or more of the following questions: Does it work for the intended species, using the intended route of administration? How much is needed for it to work in the way it is intended to work? Is it safe? Is it innovative enough to carve out a niche? Is there a high likelihood of obtaining regulatory approval? And so on. Partnering with a CRO for C2C product development helps to ensure that the formulation is safe, effective and innovative, with enough unique selling points to have a high potential of retail success; it ensures a high success potential for regulatory approval (if needed); and, it ensures that the formulation can be adequately protected (patent or trade secret). Your partners should have the scientific and regulatory expertise to navigate all of the above.
Launching on a large scale
variability, year-to-year variability and so on. Ideally, your company will want to source from at least two suppliers â€“ it is always important to have backups when upscaling production. Your quality assurance department may determine that it is best to blend batches of like ingredients, producing a large enough quantity for a three- to six-month product run. Nutraceutical ingredients are biological products, and thus degrade or decompose over time; therefore, highquality storage facilities are needed to keep products out of the light, at the correct humidity and temperature. The same is true for the finished product, and regulators like to see stability (shelf life) data for ingredients and products. Many producers of nutraceutical products are trying to fly under the regulatory radar. There is a decent amount of industry self-reporting (such as, a company reports a competitor to Health Canada or the FDA, especially when there are quality concerns), but for a legitimate company that is interested in people/animal health and plans to be in business for the long-term, it is best to take a regulatory approach from the beginning. This starts with using evidence-based research to support ingredient selection, product design (which ingredients, in what proportions, to achieve the intended effect), product effect(s) and product safety. In Canada, most nutraceutical products for humans must be registered as Natural Health Products, and for animals they must be registered as Veterinary Health Products. There are still thousands of products on the market that are not registered. How do you know if a product is registered? Read the label. Near the bottom of one of the labels it will state that it is registered, and there also will be a notification number that identifies that product within the Health Canada databases.
One of the biggest challenges is sourcing adequate quantities of highquality ingredients, and ensuring that these ingredients are, indeed, of suitable quality.
In your corporate boardroom, the decision has been made to go large into the nutraceuticals market. The company has success with a small starter line of products. Going large brings big challenges because it is not simply the process of producing more product. One of the biggest challenges is sourcing adequate quantities of high-quality ingredients, and ensuring that these ingredients are, indeed, of suitable quality. The quality assurance department will need to test each incoming shipment to ensure it meets criteria for bioactives and absence of contaminants â€“ both of these can be highly variable, even from the same supplier. One supplier may source ingredients from more than one producer, resulting in variability; there is also seasonal
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Invest wisely in C2C product development and you will be rewarded with a product for the long-term, that helps many people and/ or animals, and that you can stand behind and be proud of. The Nutraceutical Alliance has been helping people and companies with C2C product design for more than eight years and stands behind dozens of successful products, with evidence-based research supporting their function and safety.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), nutraceuticals fall into two categories: Functional foods are foods enhanced with bioactive ingredients and which have demonstrated health benefits, such as probiotic yogurt, or breads and pasta with added pea fibre. How enhanced functional food attributes are developed:
CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS
• increasing vitamin and/or mineral levels, beyond mandatory requirements (for example, fortified soy beverages and fruit juice with calcium) • addition of bioactive ingredients (for example, margarine with phytosterols, muffins with betaglucan, yogurts with probiotics and drinks with herb blends) • enhancement with bioactive components through plant breeding, genetic modification, processing or special livestock feeding techniques (for example, eggs, milk and meat with omega-3; canola oil high in carotenoids; and strawberries with enhanced levels of ellagic acid)
• Saputo developed a high-protein Milk2Go sports drink • Biscuits Leclerc’s Preventia biscuits are enhanced with red wine and inulin from chicory • Acadian Seaplants incorporates unique sea plants into foods, nutraceuticals and cosmetics
Natural health products are extracts derived from natural sources and which have demonstrated health benefits, such as omega-3 capsules or beta-glucan supplements. Examples of natural health products:
• components extracted or purified from plants (e.g., betaglucan from oats, antioxidants from blueberries, isoflavonoids from soy, sterols from wood pulp, essential fatty acids from marine or vegetable oil, and soluble fibre from fenugreek) • products ground, dried, powdered or pressed from plant materials (e.g., echinacea, fenugreek, valerian and ginseng) • products produced, extracted or purified from animals or micro-organisms (e.g., elk velvet [used to treat arthritis], essential fatty acids, enzymes, carotenoids and probiotics) • products produced, extracted or purified from marine sources (e.g., glucosamine, chitosan, algae, seaweed, kelp and fish oils) • vitamin and mineral supplements
• Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre pioneered the extraction of anthocyanins from berries and red wine • Nutra Canada specializes in fruit and vegetable extracts • Greenfield Naturals concentrates protein and fibre from byproducts of corn-ethanol • Valeant Pharmaceuticals (formerly C.V. Technologies) developed Cold-FX using North American ginseng More than 750 Canadian companies specialize in functional foods and natural health products, garnering more than $11 billion in revenues in 2011 (according to the most recent data). For detailed information on specific products offered by individual companies, including an alphabetical list of Canadian suppliers, visit the AAFC Functional Foods and Natural Health Products Database of Suppliers: ffn-afn.agr.gc.ca/ntr/index.cfm. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)
C A N A D I A N F O O D B U S I N E S S.C O M
HOW TO UNLOCK THIS EMERGING MARKET FOR YOUR PRODUCT
By Omar Subedar
CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
the year 2021, Muslims will outnumber Chinese in Canada, according to a projection from Statistics Canada based on current growth rates. Despite the statistics, though, most companies allocate far fewer marketing dollars on reaching the Muslim consumer, if any at all. It may have something to do with a single word that means a lot to Muslims, but very little to anyone outside the community: halal.
Can my business self-regulate and be certified halal? Realistically, there’s only so much you can train employees, especially those not familiar with halal. There’s a high risk of human error, especially when there’s turnover in the company. How much money are you willing to spend on repeated training and mitigating any public relations risks that can occur due to improper management of halal standards?
What does it mean for a product to be halal? Very simply, halal means “permissible.” Something that is halal is allowed by the Muslim religion based on guidelines set out in the sacred texts, specifically the Qur’an. Within the food market, halal is used to refer to what Muslims are allowed to consume; however, it’s more than just food, it’s a complete lifestyle. Everything that is allowed for a Muslim to do is halal, and every single industry can have a halal component to it. For the Muslim consumer, it means a lot of time spent scouring food labels. Ultimately, many mainstream products are passed over by Muslim consumers because they have no way of knowing if they are halal, and they prefer to err on the side of caution. It’s not so different for how things used to be for consumers with allergies and non-religious dietary restrictions. Today, many mainstream food packages bear labels like “school safe,” “nut-free” and “gluten-free.” These certifications make it possible for consumers to choose products with confidence. What few people realize is that halal certification is also available, and it can open up your product to a market with a 10 per cent growth rate.
The simplest solution is to engage the help of a certifying agency. But who? There are no government regulations for halal, meaning anyone can set up a halal certification body. Prior to 2004, there were two halal certifying bodies in Canada. Today there are many, and that just adds to the challenge for both consumers and businesses. Further compounding the issue is the dynamic nature of the food industry. New products and new processes are developed all the time, and it is not always immediately apparent whether or not they are halal. This requires research, conversation and deep knowledge of the subject. In the end, there should be no guesswork either for your business or for the consumer. The best choice is an agency that does more than simply inspect once and award a label. In other words, don’t go for a company that is just after a paycheque. Better to hire an agency, such as the Halal Monitoring Authority, that evaluates your entire operation as a partner, is connected to the community you want to reach and has their utmost trust. Remember, your company will be intimately associated with the agency you choose.
How do I know if my product is halal? For a product to be certified halal, there must be strict adherence to an established but evolving set of guidelines. First, you need to look for the presence of things that are not halal for Muslims to consume – are they found within the food or in the manufacturing process of the item? For example, when it comes to CPG, any animal and alcohol content within the product must be scrutinized, as these are the two main categories of impermissible ingredients. Regarding the animal content, the only time Muslims can consume it is after it has gone through a proper procedure. Once those aspects are ruled out, an inspection of the manufacturing process follows. You can have products which are completely fine from the ingredient standpoint, but the equipment used or the manufacturing process itself may not be halal. For example, in a processing facility, there must be a complete sanitization to remove remnants of the previous production run. Furthermore, the product cannot be stored near a non-halal product to eliminate the risk of mislabelling or cross-contamination before packaging.
Is halal certification really worth the effort? There’s huge value in the growing numbers of the halal demographic. At the moment, there may be a lot of people that are not buying your product because it’s not meeting their requirements. If you want the confidence of those consumers, the investment you’ll need to make is minimal relative to the potential returns. Don’t forget, making your product inclusive for Muslims does not exclude it from other markets. Have you ever eaten a kosher pickle? It’s really not so different. The Muslim community is only growing in Canada; it’s not going anywhere, and with the spending power being much more than it ever was before, it just makes sense for a company to look at halal certification, and a certification the community trusts.
Omar Subedar is the COO of Halal Monitoring Authority Canada, an Islamic scholar and a practicing imam. HMA Canada was formed in 2004 and has certified more than 130 restaurants, products and food industry businesses. Subedar formed the HMA after uncovering mislabelling, fraud and other findings of misconduct within existing labelling and certifying processes. Learn more at hmacanada.org.
DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences has launched one of the dairy industry’s most flexible enzyme ranges for fermented dairy products that are low in sugar, high in fiber and lactose-free. Designed for today’s major dairy trends, the series enables targeted innovation through an all-in-one addition. Using Nurica, manufacturers can fine-tune the sugar, fiber and lactose content of their dairy products to benefit consumers who are lactose intolerant or seeking healthier dairy choices. dupontnutritionandbiosciences.com
CORIOLIS MASS FLOWMETER FOR ADVANCED PROCESSING APPLICATIONS KROHNE’S new mass flowmeter, the Optimass Coriolis, measures mass, volume flow, density and concentration of liquids and gases and is available in several designs, from twin bent to single straight tube. All Optimass flowmeters provide continuous flow measurement, even with entrained gas of up to 100 percent. The device supports batching, dosing, filling, as well as mass flow measurement of ice cream and milk. It also measures the flow, density and specific gravity in brewing processes and offers dosing of hop extract, natural oils, grease and vegetables, and CO2 injection in soft drink production. krohne.com
PURE WATER SYSTEMS ENSURE ACCURATE CANNABIS TESTING When analyzing cannabis and CBD products for purity, ultrapure water is the basis for safe and economical analytics, reducing interference and ensuring accurate measurements of cannabinoids and terpenes. The arium laboratory-grade water purification systems offer application-oriented operating designs for faster workflows and greater reliably. The flexible system integrates and easily adapts into different laboratory environments. sartorius.com
THE RIGHT INTERLEAVING SYSTEM CAN IMPACT YOUR BOTTOM LINE From burgers to pasta, the right food interleaving system can improve production, shelf life, food safety and consumer appeal. Systems like Pacproinc’s 300 series of ProLeavers are built for high-volume, speed, accuracy and reliability, and can interface with existing packaging machinery. The ProLeaver 9300 saves space while providing a single bottom sheet or full-wrap interleaving and can be outfitted with a remote monitoring and diagnostic system (RMDS). The ProLeaver 20300 features 200 rows per minute, four lanes of paper, the ability to run paper or plastic film and multiple stacking options. The ProLeaver 26300 is the most compact standalone paper feeder in the world, but can interleave up to 26-inch-wide paper or up to six lanes of narrower paper. pacproinc.com
C A N A D I A N F O O D B U S I N E S S.C O M
BREAKTHROUGH ENZYME NOW AVAILABLE FOR DAIRY PRODUCTS
MOMENTS IN TIME
OH CAN-OLA! BY JANA MANOLAKOS
BIOLAB BUSINESS WINTER 2019–20
Since first appearing on the Canadian agricultural stage 60 years ago, a tiny, bright yellow flower achieved star status as a new cooking oil and biodiesel source that’s both good for humans and for the planet. Canola, a name which combines “Canada” and “oil,” was developed by researchers and oilseed breeders at the University of Manitoba in the 1960s and ’70s, partially in response to a decline in the rapeseed market. Unlike rapeseed, which had its heyday as a lubricant in steampowered engines, canola was bred for human consumption and for animal feed. As a plant that easily adjusts to cool night temperatures and hot, dry days, the crop grows well on the Prairies, which produce 99 percent of Canada’s canola. More than 20 million metric tonnes of the stuff were produced in 2018, with Saskatchewan fields accounting for over half. The seeds have almost twice the amount of heart-healthy oil found in soybeans. Canola oil is rich in Vitamin E, cholesterol free and contains the least saturated fat of any common cooking oil. Its low cost, high smoke point and nutritional benefits make canola oil a popular choice. According to Stats Canada, Canadians are the largest per capita consumers of canola oil foodstuffs in the world; it’s used in 80 percent of the salad oil market, 56 percent of the shortening market and 42 percent of the margarine market. It’s also found in cosmetics, printing inks, suntan oils, oiled fabrics, plasticizers, plastic wraps, pesticides and industrial lubricants. Consumer products containing canola carry the canola flower logo of the Canadian Canola Council. While canola is obviously important for oil production, it is also the source of a number of other valuable products. Canola meal (what’s left of the canola seeds after the oil has been extracted) is a rich source of vitamins B and E and is a protein source for the aquaculture and animal feed industries. Research to discover other uses has led to its development as a biodiesel for trucks and heavy machinery. It’s been shown to emit almost 90 percent less greenhouse gases than petroleum-based diesel. Work is also underway to develop canola varieties with greater resilience to herbicides, that are more resistant to disease and weeds, with improved crop yield, quality and shorter maturity time. Other research is looking to boost the average oil content in canola seed, as well as its caloric content in poultry and swine feed. And, it’s good for business. According to the Canola Council of Canada, Canadian-grown canola contributes billions to the economy annually, including more than 250,000 Canadian jobs and $11.2 billion in wages. Canada is the world’s largest exporter, with more than 90 percent of the country’s canola seed, oil and meal sold in the United States, Japan, Mexico and China.
According to the Canola Council of Canada, Canadian-grown canola contributes billions to the economy annually, including more than
250,000 Canadian jobs and
$11.2 billion in wages.
The Next Level Eppendorf Conical Tubes 25 mL with screw and SnapTec™ cap Why should you have to use a 50 mL conical tube for sample volumes between 15 and 25 mL? Discover new possibilities with the innovative Eppendorf Conical Tube 25 mL. This new 25 mL conical tube is available with both patented SnapTec cap and screw cap options.
The reduced height of 25 mL conical tubes, combined with the same diameter as 50 mL conical tubes, enables: > Easy sample access with low volume pipettes and tips with reduced risk of cross-contamination > The SnapTec cap allows single-handed operation for fast liquid extraction or addition > Matching accessories for centrifugation, mixing & heating, automation, sample preparation, and storage
www.eppendorf.com • 800-263-8715 009.A1.0114.A Eppendorf® and the Eppendorf Brand Design are registered trademarks of Eppendorf AG, Germany. SnapTec™ is a trademark of Eppendorf AG, Germany. All rights reserved including graphics and images. Copyright © 2019 by Eppendorf AG.
The Right Ingredients For Your Next Food Processing Operation Saskatchewan has the components you need: •
40% of Canada’s farmable land and access to top quality crops and livestock
The most productive food processing workforce in Canada (StatsCan 2018)
One of the top agriculture biotech, crop science and product development infrastructures in the world
Central access to the North American market
A corporate income tax rate of 10% for processing
The Saskatchewan Value-Added Agriculture Incentive that offers you a 15% tax rebate on capital expenditures valued at $10 million or more for new or expanded agricultural facilities in the province
Learn more at:
15% tax rebate on
capital expenditures valued at $10 million or more