Nicole McAuley, Head of Communications and Public Affairs
We live in extraordinary times. COVID-19 has turned many of our lives upside down with challenges that could not have been anticipated. On top of a global pandemic and now a tragic war in Ukraine that has reverberated around the world, Canada experienced some of the most sensational climate events in decades – severe drought in some parts of the country, severe flooding in others, and record wildfires have all occurred in just the past two years.
Stories of empty shelves at grocery stores, concerns about supply chain and access to products, the sustainability of food production and the rising costs of our food in part due to record levels of inflation are all factors impacting current food security challenges. These challenges, alongside a myriad of other pressing issues, are going to continue – and they’re putting our agriculture and agri-food sectors at serious risk.
There is a lot of hand-wringing across the board over what to do to help keep food abundant and affordable, but there’s one area that’s being overlooked – and that’s the impact of science and innovation on our food production. And more specifically, how some of these food security challenges can actually be addressed early on – even before a seed gets planted in the ground.
CropLife Canada commissioned a report in 2021 that looked at the contributions of plant science innovations and their impact on the environment, the economy and communities, including the affordability of food. The report found that without innovations like using new plant breeding techniques such as genome editing and tools like pesticides to help control potentially devastating diseases and pests, food prices would be 45 per cent higher on average for some food staples. That translates to an additional $4,500 per year in food costs for Canadian households.
Looking at the facts, science and innovation in agriculture have led to stronger, higher-yield crops with greater nutritional value, as well as far less waste when they can withstand disease and environmental pressures. Fortunately, here in Canada, we have one of the strongest regulatory systems in the world, and our farmers have access to a wide range of safe, effective products that are evaluated by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
In May 2022, Health Canada confirmed new guidance on plant breeding innovation, which will provide growers with better access to new, safe and beneficial plant varieties. This is a critically important step forward for agriculture and our competitiveness as a country, as it means that growers can continue to sustainably grow food for Canada and for the world at large.
Along these same lines, our world-renowned Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has initiated a consultation period in support of a review of the current Pest Control Products Act (PCPA). This is a process that may be useful in terms of making potential improvements, but also stands to put the already-strong PCPA at risk by creating opportunities for the potential spread of misinformation by groups that do not take a science-based approach to innovation in agriculture. It’s critical that we take every step possible in this process to defend science and data-based decisions to advance our industry and ensure the public and policymakers are well informed as changes to the PCPA are being considered.
We cannot overstate the value of innovation in Canadian farming, and the importance this plays within the broader conversations around rising food costs and food security for every Canadian. Collectively, we need to make every effort to ensure Canada’s farmers continue to have access to the tools they need to help withstand the challenges they face, day in and day out. Those who farm in today’s industry are forward-thinking, innovative and incredibly resilient. But they can’t continue to grow affordable, abundant, high-quality food for our growing world population without the support of scientific innovation.
Farming in Canada is not only critical to our sustainability, but is also a foundational economic driver. In 2020, the agriculture and agri-food sector employed over 2 million people (one in 9 Canadian jobs) and generated over $139 billion of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP). Canada has over 193,000 farms covering almost 70 million hectares of Canada's land area. Their farm receipts were almost $69 million and crop production alone accounted for $34.4 billion in GDP. As the population of Canada and the world expands, our farmers will continue to play a critical role in our collective future prosperity.
The demand has never been greater for Canada’s world-leading food products – our wheat, canola, dairy and meat will all see increased demand and pressure to expand over the coming decades. This means the question we now face is simple: as supply chains and general food production are stressed, how do we dramatically increase the availability of high-quality food?
The solutions may be complex as we look at various aspects of the food chain within this discussion. But what we do know is that science and innovation are fundamental to ensuring a productive and sustainable future for agriculture. Setting up this industry – and those who grow, sell, handle, and haul our country’s valuable crops and products – for long-term success will require a singular vision: one that is unequivocally focused on driving research and innovation forward within the agricultural industry.
We need to ensure that we can continue to provide the critical innovations to withstand the challenges farmers face, with smart government policies and a strong regulatory system that continues to prioritize and foster science and innovation as foundational to the advancement of agriculture and agri-food production.
The challenge to address food security is at a critical moment in time. The solutions to this global challenge can be found right here in Canada. Our farmers are up to the challenge, and they need industry, government and the public to get behind them, so they can continue to play a critical role as part of the solution to the world’s biggest problems.
The best way we can do this is by removing barriers and giving them access to the science, innovation and tools they need to do what they do best – and ultimately, secure the future of food.