Bioscience and Food Policy

In partnership with the Global Institute for Food Security, CSIP has undertaken cutting-edge research into decision-making in the global bioscience governance system.

The team has more than $5 million of social sciences research embedded in the $37.2 million Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) project on Designing Crops for Global Food Security; a Genome Canada-funded projects on lentils and vaccines; and a seven-year, $750K Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant entitled Rethinking intellectual property rights for open innovation. 

Bioscience innovation is a driving force behind 21st century economies. The new technologies are failing to meet their potential, not because of the vagaries of the science, but because of the social systems that underpin and govern innovation.

In 2012, Canada directed nearly $700 million to agri-food bioscience research and development (R&D), almost 80% of this financed by governments. While this is a significant investment, it is still less than half of the recommended OECD target based on the size and nature of our domestic industry.

Evidence suggests that the optimal gains from this research are not realized due to delays in decision-making in the global research value chain and the long, costly and uncertain regulatory process. One result is that upwards of 99% of all potential bioscience innovations are culled before they get to market.

Canada’s basic challenge is that we invest too little in bioscience. Less than 1% of bioscience innovations are successful and the cost and time to get to market is high, rising and becomng less certain.

Most of those costs and uncertainties do not arise directly from the science—rather they arise in decision-making systems in government, universities, the private sector, industry associations, research teams and among individual producers and consumers. Effective, efficient and timely decisions are critical to ensuring new agri-food technologies reach the marketplace to benefit Canadian industry and global consumers.

Developing better decision-making approaches to investing public funds in research and regulating the resulting technologies and products will generate greater economic impacts. As part of CSIP’s work, researchers will provide decision-makers with the appropriate tools and evidence to enable them to lower the cost, time and uncertainties in decision systems. The long-term impact will be to enhance the climate for investment in development and commercialization of innovative agri-food technologies, products and services in Canada, thereby ensuring that the national agri-food industry continues to be globally competitive and contribute to global food security.

Current Research Programs

Founded in 2015, the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) is a digital agriculture research centre funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, managed by the Global Institute for Food Security, and located at the University of Saskatchewan.

The P2IRC research program is comprised of four key themes that will generate a range of data-rich technologies, products, and services that will fundamentally transform seed and plant breeding of large area crops essential to global food security, such as wheat, canola, and lentils. These themes include:

  • Phenometrics - Leveraging the power of precision digital phenotyping and genomics for crop breeding.
  • Image Acquisition Technologies - Using advanced imaging techniques, including synchrotron and next-generation technologies, to understand crop characteristics.
  • Computational Informatics of Crop Phenotype Data - Understanding how digitization can provide pathways to revolutionize plant breeding.
  • Societal and Developing World Impact - Creating solutions in the digital agriculture space to catalyze technological adoption, secure social license, and clear regulatory and IP hurdles in target markets.

Under the auspices of CSIP, Peter Phillips is leading a research program under the fourth theme - Societal and Developing World Impact.

Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, ITraP is an interdisciplinary, international training initiative in infectious diseases, food safety and public policy based at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Saskatchewan.

ITraP is part of the global One Health initiative which aims to create collaborations between people from many health and environmental disciplines in order to work toward better health care for humans, animals, and the environment.  The program is focused on training students in the field of infectious diseases, food safety and public policy so that ultimately, they will protect our national interests and the health of all Canadians.

The initiative collaborates with government and industry partners to take multi-disciplinary science discoveries and translate them into public health approaches. Partners on this initiative include: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Public Health Agency of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Novartis, Cangene, and Maple Leaf Foods.

The goal is to encourage scientists and policy-makers to work together and face the challenges of identifying the pathobiology of infectious pathogens, their entry into the food chain or our daily environment, and the best means of intervention.

The ITraP program involves a large number of people, including Peter W.B. Phillips, and committees that contribute to its operation and aid in the program's growth and development.

Lentils may be tiny, but they are an outsized source of opportunity for Canadian farmers. Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of lentils, exporting more than $14 billion worth of lentils since1997. Lentils are eaten around the world, easy-to-cook, and high in protein and micro nutrients, thus contributing to global food security.

Lentils have been a success for Canada, because farmers have access to high-quality and high-yielding lentil varieties that are well-adapted to Canada’s climate conditions–a result of a dedicated lentil breeding program in Canada. Breeders, however, have only been able to access a small fraction of the total diversity in existence, which hinders Canadian farmers’ ability to meet the growing global demand.

The goal of AGILE is to provide Canadian farmers with faster access to better lentil varieties that will excel under Canadian growing conditions. The AGILE team will characterize the genetic variability found in an expansive collection of lentils to determine the genetics underlying the ability for lentils to grow well in different global environments. The team, led by Drs. Kirstin Bett and Albert Vandenberg of the University of Saskatchewan, will then develop breeder-friendly genetic markers that can be used to reduce the impact of genes that cause poor adaptation to Canadian conditions while retaining advantageous genes from these strains. The team, which includes Peter W.B. Phillips, will also investigate the factors that influence farmer’s decisions to adopt lentil or not in their crop rotation, and develop a strategy to increase Canadian lentil production in a sustainable way.

This project aims to develop vaccines against two important infectious diseases of cattle, Johne’s disease and bovine tuberculosis. Infections are a leading cause of sickness and death in cattle, causing direct economic losses to producers and even more serious losses associated with international trade restrictions (as seen with mad cow disease) and decreased public confidence in food quality. Infectious diseases also pose a risk to human health if they are transferred to people. The most effective way to prevent infectious disease in animals such as cattle is vaccination. Lack of effective vaccines for some diseases contributes to the over use of antibiotics and to a strategy of slaughtering infected animals, which has come under increasing public scrutiny. 

Dr. Andrew Potter of VIDO-Inter Vac, University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Robert Hancock of the University of British Columbia are leading a team taking a “reverse vaccinology” approach to preventing infectious diseases in cattle. This approach uses genomic technology to screen large numbers of bacterial proteins simultaneously to identify those that have properties that can stimulate a protective immuneres ponse in cattle. These proteins then form the basis for developing novel vaccines and immunization strategies.The team will focus on two common cattle diseases, bovine tuberculosis, a debilitating disease that can spread to man and other domestic and wild animals, and Johne’s Disease, a gastro intestinal disease, developing and bringing to market vaccines for these costly diseases with in two years’ of the project’s end. The team will also develop companion diagnostics that will differentiate vaccinated from infected animals. 

The team’s work will ultimately increase productivity and profitability for cattle producers and increase public confidence by reducing the use of slaughter or antibiotics to control infections. It will also enhance Canada’s reputation as a major Agri food producer. The annual financial impact of the vaccinesis estimated to be around $100 million, with international sales of a further $400 million.