Deboarh Buszard – Professor, Agricultural Scientist, University of British Columbia
Gilles Saindon – Assistant Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Peter Phillips – Distinguished Professor of Policy, University of Saskatchewan
Tania Humphrey – Vice President, Research & Development, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre
Context: The panel explored the potential role of science and innovation in strengthening the long-term resiliency of agri-food supply chains through existing industry-academia-government collaboration and in a post COVID-19 environment. This issue is of importance for implementing R&D and innovation ecosystem policies, which will encourage investment and adoption of cutting edge technologies for the sector to recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn. The panel addressed some of the sector’s vulnerabilities arising from the pandemic, its trajectory for long-term growth and how it can better respond to future crises.
Canada is well positioned to support global food security. It is a critical exporter of food and agriculture and agri-food comprise a major part of the country’s economic activity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not significantly changed the direction of innovation in the agri-food sector. Rather, it is pushing us faster in the directions we already wanted to be going.
Some aspects of the industry were resilient to disruptions, but COVID-19 shed light on some weaknesses as well, e.g., reliance on global supply chains, and reliance on temporary foreign workers, both of which were shown to be vulnerable to disruptions.
Government has a role in increasing resilience by investing in innovations that address these vulnerabilities (see Actions).
The agri-food sector could benefit from following the model of ocean research in Canada – similarly complex (i.e., many jurisdictions and actors), but successful in establishing research networks, a university alliance (Oceans Research in Canada Alliance), and attracting a supercluster initiative.
We should capitalize on the increased attention currently being paid to agriculture in this country (e.g., due to COVID, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, etc.) and keep agriculture in the spotlight to move this sector forward.
Public perception is focussed on manual labour, but agriculture is a high-tech business. Innovation requires personnel with different expertise and skills. This will require rethinking education in agriculture and promoting the sector to attract students.
Three areas of innovation to increase resilience: Automate to address labour challenges, move more crops into greenhouse production, and improve access to plant varieties adapted to Canadian environments.
The agri-food sector would benefit from increased collaborations (both nationally and internationally), and from better connections between researchers, farmers and consumers.
Fred Popowich – Scientific Director, SFU’s Big Data Initiative
Caroline Colijn – Canada Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection, Evolution and Public Health, Simon Fraser University
Ted Cohen – Professor of Epidemiology, Yale School of Medicine
Lucie Léonard – Director of the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS) , Statistics Canada
Soyean Kim – Director of Digital Products, Providence Health Care
Mohammad Qadir – President & Chief Scientific Officer, Fusion Genomics
Context: Policymakers need to harness advances in artificial intelligence, analytics, and mathematical modelling to navigate this new era of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These technologies and approaches provide greater clarity to guide strategy, fostering a culture of agility, and creating much needed space for iteration. This panel explored case studies about partnerships between government, academia, and industry that are rising to the challenges of today and innovating for the future.
Data-driven, agile, and collaborative partnerships are essential for shaping policies and response mechanisms (e.g., understanding COVID-19 data and forecasting what might happen and what we can do).
Public and private sector collaborations require trust, and this can be enhanced through data literacy efforts, better policies, and sustainable designs.
COVID-19 has shed a light on data inadequacies where there are divides between policy/decision makers and groups who generate data, share and analyze data.
Data stewardship is a big responsibility and needs to operate under strong governance, privacy and security policies.
Embed data-modellers in teams with epidemiologists, policy analysts, and decision makers to harness existing capacity in Canada, as well as enhance training and build additional expertise.
There is a need to better understand data gaps (e.g., individual behaviour data in real-time, population level data, and exposure contacts based on individual data), and the barriers to collecting and sharing these data. Proactively engage the public on the benefits of these data (e.g., data literacy education).
Data on age, gender and location needs to be collected at the national level in Canada to enhance our understanding of the pandemic and the needs of different groups.
Enhance data interoperability, data workflows, and data management in new ways through innovative, accessible, and inclusive partnerships.
There is a need for data modernization; much is untapped and some are still collected on paper. This goes hand in hand with establishing trust with the public, policy/decision makers, as well as academics.
Build a just-in-case not a just-in-time public health network and that starts today not in the future.
Rémi Quirion – Chief Scientist of Quebec, Government of Quebec
Yan Kestens – Professor, University of Montreal
Marie-Christine Therrien – Professor, École nationale d’administration publique
Mylène Drouin – Director of Public Health, Public Health Regional Directorate of Montreal
Valérie Plante – Mayor of Montreal, Project Montréal Leader
Context: While the different government levels were reacting to the second wave of COVID-19 and developing their economic response plans, this panel focused on how cities use evidence and scientific expertise to support decision-making during environmental and health crises. Panelists from cities, public health and research shared insights on policies that may be deployed and, more broadly, how municipalities can build a dialog with the research community to develop new policies for healthy cities. A plan for the creation of a living lab exploring these challenges was also discussed.
More than 80% of the Canadian population lives in urban areas, so urban planning scenariosmust be mobile, efficient and accessible.
Our postal code is a powerful predictor of our health. Opportunities or challenges will be different depending on where you live.
Cities need specific data to make effective decisions. The INTERACT project launched in 2017 by Yan Kestens is one model that measures changes and impacts in urban environments by engaging with citizens and monitoring urban areas.
Montreal is known for urbanism and culture. It also benefits from a strong academic network, but scientific diplomacy has to be a part of its fabric going forward.
We need more researchers and experts, for example in urban resilience, housing and transit to address complex issues as they evolve, as well as more research on urban areas to understand the priority of actors, the complexity of the territories and the participation of citizens.
As a living lab, Montreal and the academic network need to strengthen the bridge between communities and municipalities. Research and innovation will be critical as immigration, climate change, housing and transit become more complicated.
Cities must conceive their leadership role more broadly than trash collection and snow clearing, and make physical and mental health policies a priority now, as well as providing more space (e.g., green space) for people to move around. Cities must also ensure art and culture are accessible.
Networking between public health practitioners and researchers within cities, in prevision of forthcoming crises should be encouraged and facilitated. Policymakers should adapt to public health interpretations and researchers and practitioners should network with other cities and countries to build better capacities to deploy solutions during crises.
Cities and their public health departments need to cooperate to procure critical data. Public health practitioners have to become knowledge users to facilitate research, and research needs to be the DNA of public health organizations in all towns and cities.
A living lab dedicated to bridging science and policy in an urban context should help to address specific hurdles that limit practitioners, researchers and politicians in their collaborative efforts to gather and use data.
Gordon C McCauley – President and CEO, adMare BioInnovations
Inès Holzbaur – Co-Founder and Managing Partner, AmorChem
Didier Leconte – Vice-President, Investments – Life Sciences and Funds Management , Fonds de solidarité FTQ
Dion Madsen – Partner, Amplitude Venture Capital
Laurence Rulleau – Partner, CTI Life Sciences
Context: adMare BioInnovations, Canada’s global life sciences ventures, convened a discussion with leading national life sciences investors on how to ensure Canada’s most innovative health sciences companies have the resources they need to innovate, scale, and anchor in Canada – and in doing so, ensure the health and wealth of Canadians through COVID and beyond.
The pandemic has made relationship building difficult between companies and investors. For example, while Zoom may be sufficient when meeting with people you already know to raise funds, it doesn’t work well when trying to establish new relationships. Zoom does not replace in-person interactions.
For companies, being too prudent and conservative with spending may be a detriment. Find that balance between managing cash flow with continued advancements. Find the right investigator who is willing to take risks and help the company move forward.
The life sciences industry is perceived as risky and needing a complicated team that no one wants to build. Doing more to promote the industry as a public good will help more investors see the industry as an asset.
Domestication of supply chains will ensure Canadians have access to innovative therapies while supporting the growth of home-grown industries.
Innovation pricing schemes are emerging to address high drug prices. For example, precision medicine makes it possible to identify how well a patient responds to drugs, resulting in more effective cost-benefit analysis. Some jurisdictions are also adopting a “Netflix” payment model that sees government pay a flat subscription fee for unlimited access to a company’s drugs.
Policies that support seed-stage investment in life sciences are key to a post-pandemic recovery.
Opening access to data and health care systems in every province can help companies be more efficient, and allow more effective innovations to be developed that can be used in real time.
Utilizing and retaining the tremendous resource Canada has in artificial intelligence can help Canada become a global leader.
Create environments that foster an entrepreneurial spirit. This requires visionary leaders, repatriating skilled talent and a long-term strategy for training future Canadian executives.
Create a financial environment that is attractive for investors, including funds that support emerging teams and have the capacity to absorb money from large institutional investors
More needs to be done to engage and advance the careers of marginalized people, including women and racialized individuals, to open the industry to new ideas and approaches. Diversity needs to be reflected at all levels from the board to senior management.
Panelists:Candice Odgers – Professor, Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine
Rémi Quirion – Chief Scientist of Quebec, Government of Quebec
Christine Sham – Director, Information Management Strategy and Policy, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Elissa Strome – Executive Director, CIFAR Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, CIFAR
Asaph Young Chun – Director General, Statistics Research Institute Korea
Gaga Boskovic –Advisor, Government and Public Policy, CIFAR
Context: In the wake of global health and economic crises, science is crucial to building long-term resilience for a speedy recovery. Canada’s research excellence helps protect citizens today, and helps rebuild our economy tomorrow. How can COVID-19 inform science policy today, and guide responses to future crises? This panel explored how science and research can support Canada’s economic recovery following COVID-19, and what lessons can be learned from the pandemic to prepare Canada’s economy in the face of future crises. In the face of this unprecedented challenge and an unknown reality beyond the horizon, what role does science and research play?
The public are more receptive to receiving updates on COVID-19 from scientists directly involved with the pandemic, rather than public officials. This approach increases the level of trust and public interest in science.
We can learn from the successes and mistakes of others through international collaborations. For example: South Korea drew on its experience with the MERS and SARS outbreaks to develop legal guidelines to protect privacy for contact tracing. International collaboration between South Korea and Canadian scientists was also important in developing prediction models for the pandemic.
Incorporating the social activities of citizens into prediction models is key to mitigating the social and mental impacts of the pandemic. Research conducted by South Korea revealed a 20-25% increase in suicide rates among females compared to last year.
Scientists and policymakers need access to data in real-time. The Ontario Health Data Platform was created to overcome barriers in sharing and using data to support public policy related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while also protecting privacy. This computing platform will eventually become part of a government-sponsored research platform.
The impact of the pandemic on children has not received significant attention, as many people view children as being shielded from the virus due to lower rates of sickness and mortality. However, children (especially those from vulnerable communities) have been significantly affected in different ways (e.g., mental health, family, economically).
Science must remain at the forefront of government strategies to prevent and manage future pandemics.
There is a need to create a data ecosystem to support research, one that includes data governance (i.e., better ways to protect data), infrastructure, and data quality. Citizens need to be engaged in this process to ensure transparency and a clear understanding of how their data will be used.
Designing technological tools that improve how people are educated during the pandemic will require public input from diverse demographics.
Human factors (e.g., the economic and mental health impacts on children) need to be considered in any pandemic response, such as how to safely re-open schools.
Targeted support is needed for young people in vulnerable situations as many have been cut off from educational institutions or other institutions that support their social life. One solution is to provide more online support for mental health issues.
Joanne Curry – Vice-President, External Relations, Simon Fraser University
Annett Rozek – Chief Scientific Officer, Terramera
Evan Fraser – Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph
William Hsiao – Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University
Selena Basi – Assistant Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Development, Government of British Columbia
Context: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted food security and supply chains and altered our food safety and security concepts. This disruption encourages a re-thinking of our food system designs for agricultural crops or livestocks while minimizing our footprints (greenhouse gases and less land use). Statistics show that by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70% to feed the expected nine billion earth population. Canada is uniquely positioned to be a thriving agtech sector through investments in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Investing in agtech can build food security and reduce carbon emissions. Canada is starting from a strong agtech base, from startups to established companies.
Data interoperability and sharing are important but a governance system is needed so that farmers share in the benefits of the data. Many farmers are suspicious of companies that collect their data and sell it back to them as a subscription service. Data also needs to be cyber-secure.
Barriers to farmer adoption of new agtech technologies include costs and lack of training to test and use new tools.
BC can leverage its green sustainability brand through local food production and technology development (e.g., smart, sustainable packaging).
The University of Guelph’s Food from Thought research program has shown that Canadian exports benefit from upholding safe, trust, and sustainable principles.
Low-cost, scalable and deployable surveillance tools are needed to track infectious diseases for food safety and security. One example is the early warning system for avian flu funded by Genome BC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the BC Ministry of Agriculture, that uses genomics to detect viruses in habitats.
Put farmers, including northern and Indigenous communities, in the driver’s seat when it comes to making choices that are best for their operations (i.e., as co-investigators of the research, environmental stewards).
Further relationship and trust building is needed to bridge the divide between farmers and agtech companies.
Government policies can support ag-tech; e.g., land use planning (i.e., for greenhouses); carbon markets that encourage green practices; technology de-risking (i.e., oil sands provide a model); including agriculture in STEM disciplines to grow youth employment in agtech; facilitating partnerships between researchers, industry, farmers, Indigenous and government.
Support and empower northern and remote communities to produce their own food within sustainable development goals
Pari Johnston – Vice-President, Policy and Public Affairs, Genome Canada
Javier Garcia-Garza – Special Advisor, Agriculture and Climate Change, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Alison Sunstrum – CEO, Founder , CNSRV-X Inc.
Chris Grainger – CEO and Co-Founder, Harvest Genomics Inc.
Kirstin Bett – Professor, Plant Breeding & Genetics, University of Saskatchewan
Context: Converging advances in biological sciences, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) are fueling transformation in agriculture. As noted in Farmer 4.0, many countries are scaling genomics research and ag-tech innovation. Canada’s export leadership is at risk without major investments in technology development and adoption, capital and skills. COVID-19 also exposed our food supply chain vulnerabilities, impacting domestic food security. Through the lens of a sustainable recovery, this session featured Canadian researchers, industry innovators and policymakers in conversation about Canada’s genomics-enabled food opportunity and top-of-mind policy, regulatory and consumer issues at play.
Advances in biological sciences, automation and AI are driving transformation in the agricultural sector around the world. These advances are essential for domestic food security, exports, sustainability, and economic growth.
Canada could benefit from major strategic investments in ag-tech, specifically in adoption, capital investments and infrastructure (including rural broadband), skills development and a more agile regulatory regime.
There are many opportunities for Canada to more strategically support the widespread integration of genomics in agriculture, including integrating genomics science and technologies in plant-animal breeding, bio-surveillance, and big data strategies. The portability of genomics tools (“point of farm” diagnostics), the speed of genotyping, the cost efficiency of gene sequencing and the accessibility of databases and sequencing platforms to smaller ag-tech companies all serve to make genomics more efficient and applicable.
COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reposition Canada’s agricultural sector with wider adoption and integration of bio-innovation, by investing more in bio-agriculture, digital infrastructure and data policies. This will enable greater efficiencies, sustainability and personalization of services with a view to widespread deployment to end-users and uptake by farmers.
Interdisciplinary cross-faculty and cross-university collaborations and public-private partnerships involving academia, government, funders, industry and farmers are essential for the widespread adoption of bio-innovation in the agricultural sector.
There is a need for digital and data infrastructure to support the future of ag-tech, underpinned by a national genomics data strategy.
To compete globally, Canada needs to invest in the co-development and commercialization of new genomic tools, in partnership with farmers and end-users, and widely deploy these tools to start-ups and farmers. Future tool development needs strong research institutions, strong accelerators and mentorship opportunities to attract capital, public-private partnerships and direct involvement of end-users.
Develop a regulatory approach for gene editing in plant and animal breeding that supports domestic competitiveness but that also considers regulatory frameworks of other countries as this impacts access to other markets. This requires an ecosystem approach and trust.
Canadian Science Policy Centre
1595 16th Avenue, Suite 301
Richmond Hill, ON