Aug. 12, 2013, Calgary, AB - Canada has just a dozen years to turn an unprecedented market opportunity into a sustainable economic boom led by agriculture. That's the view of two industry influencers who will be in Calgary next month for the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC 2013).
The event, taking place September 15 to 18 at the TELUS Convention Centre, will provide scientists, agribusiness and farmers with a 360-degree view of the current and emerging role of biotech in food and energy production.
As Alberta agribusiness veteran Art Froehlich observes, biotech is a multi-faceted issue that matters a great deal to the future of Canada. He cites a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency report that forecasts, by the year 2025, only six nations in the world will be net exporters of food. Those countries are expected to be Canada, Australia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, France and Argentina.
On the face of it, that's great news for Canada. It suggests that many current net food exporters, specifically the United States, could be preoccupied with their domestic markets. That creates an opening for Canada to increase its own exports and do so profitably.
Not so fast, notes Froehlich. Converting a market opportunity into money in the bank isn't so easy.
"We will need to raise our game significantly between now and 2025," says Froehlich. "We will need to grow much more food and energy from a finite or declining resource base. To do this, we will need all the technology – including biotechnology – that we can get."
Froehlich identifies four areas where Canada can and must do more. One is the challenge of health – not just growing more food but growing better food, too. Functional foods and nutraceuticals will skyrocket in importance. A second issue is the need to develop crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently. A third is the use of biologicals rather than just chemicals to protect crops from insects and disease. Finally, seed genetics will be a major driver of productivity, as science stacks more valuable traits into new crop varieties. All these issues are on the agenda for ABIC 2013.
Advanced science and new technology, then, will be important to Canada on the road to 2025. Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Kansas City-based Center for Food Integrity, will be coming to ABIC 2013 bearing a countervailing message: science alone won't be enough.
"There's a big difference between what we can do, identified by science, and what we should do, which society will ultimately decide," says Arnot. "The agriculture industry has been frustrated by the fact that a scientific argument alone has not proven to be persuasive with the public. I believe we can't substitute scientific verification for ethical justification."
A scientific breakthrough that lacks public support will likely be tough to commercialize. For this reason, Arnot makes the case that scientific discovery and public acceptance must be pursued in parallel. He calls on the agriculture industry to adopt a policy of 'radical transparency' to build understanding and trust between the industry and the public.
"We need to show that values and ethics are the foundation of what the industry is doing," says Arnot.
How can Canada capture a world of opportunity in 2025? It'll take a strategic mix of breakthrough science, smart technology, committed producers and a public that's willing to come along for the ride. Finding the right blend of science, technology and policy is the subject of ABIC 2013.
Keynote and panel speakers span the senior ranks of global agribusiness, renowned biotech researchers and some of North America's most progressive and publicly engaged crop and livestock producers.
The world looks to Canada: but are we ready?
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