Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan was pleased to host 170 registrants at its annual Cultivating Trust conference held in Saskatoon and online on November 18. The theme of the event was “the future of food” and included three keynote speakers.
Ian Affleck, who is VP of plant biotechnology for CropLife Canada, spoke about how plants and plant science have evolved over time. “A lot of our food didn’t exist the way it looks today,” he said, pointing to broccoli, grapefruit, bananas, corn and other plants. “It has been thousands of years of time and effort and dedication.” Affleck spoke of new developments like high-fiber or low-gluten wheat to improve people’s diets; a low-bruising potato which will reduce food waste and improve processing efficiencies.
Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a livestock geneticist and extension specialist from University of California at Davis, discussed her work in using CRISPR technology to make improvements in livestock genetics. She too referenced the long history of the use of breeding tools in animal species, which have led to improvements in pet traits, health research, medical procedures and food products, among others. “To me, genetic improvement is a better solution to animal diseases than having to treat animals who are sick with antibiotics. It’s better to have animals who are resilient and don’t get sick in the first place.” Gene editing does not replace traditional breeding, she pointed out, but is extremely useful in certain applications, such as pigs that are resistant to a deadly respiratory disease. “But we’re not going to be able to do it with the regulatory approach that is being proposed in the United States,” she said, which singles out this breeding method among others and treats gene-edited animals in the same way as new drugs.
Matt Ridley, a journalist, author and policy maker from Britain, rounded out the day with a presentation on innovation and its importance to humanity. He spoke about how innovation is different than invention. While invention of a new technology is important, it is really not useful until a lot of hard work is done to make it available, affordable and reliable to the general population. As well, it is critical to understand that innovation is collaborative. “Innovation isn’t held inside an individual head. It’s held between heads, among heads.”
Ridley shared data showing that from 1961 to 2021, the world is using 68% less land to produce the same amount of food—a period in which the human population doubled in size. “Imagine if we hadn’t done that; if we hadn’t improved agriculture during those 50 years—through mechanization, chemicals, plant breeding, biotechnology. If we hadn’t applied all these things, we’d need at least double the amount of land. And you can kiss goodbye to rain forests, wetlands and all these other habitats.”
“Can we feed 10 billion people on this planet, and can we do so without destroying nature?” Ridley went on to ask. “Only if we keep innovating—and in agriculture and food in particular.”
Conference registrants can watch video from the presentations through the conference app by logging in with the same email and password as for the Whova event.