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Needed: A Time for Leadership

Donald McQueen Shaver looks at the major issues


January 6, 2009
By Donald McQueen Shaver O.C. D.Sc.

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In this address, I wish to red flag some worrisome issues domestically
and internationally, and hopefully make positive suggestions.

Donald McQueen Shaver looks at the major issues and proposes ways to address them
Keynote address given on Remembrance Day at the Poultry Innovation Conference

In this address, I wish to red flag some worrisome issues domestically and internationally, and hopefully make positive suggestions. 

Professor Roger Buckland, former Dean at Macdonald College, often exhorted Canadian agriculture to speak with one voice and said that failure to do so contributes to our declining political clout.  I agree with him, even though we know such issues as ethanol from corn has two distinct and opposing interest groups: those who feed corn versus those who grow corn.

I believe the poultry industry requires a national entity in place, that provides strong, visionary leadership, on a wide front, and that is generously funded for the long term.  The powerful Teacher’s Pension Plan, has shown the way, but has no monopoly on this process. Complementary to such an approach, individuals should consider supporting an adequate annual fee, as well as a dedicated bequest response.

p40_shaver-2 
WORDS OF WISDOM
Donald
McQueen Shaver called on the poultry industry to look ahead and take on
the major challenges facing the industry and the country.


 

In Canada today, we have little scope for the study of poultry science.  We accept that situation, at our peril.  As a youth, I rode a bicycle to the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) every summer, so that I could attend the popular short courses that were offered.  If we can’t maintain three or four poultry science graduate programs at universities across the country, perhaps we should look at an American compromise that offers two six-week summer sessions at select universities, with credit transferable to the students’ home university.  This would be a means of ensuring a steady supply of graduates with some of the specialized training, our industry needs.

A very few of our Canadian institutes hold select pure lines in small populations.  What better investment for the industry than to fund the continuing performance enhancement of these lines in adequate population numbers per line, and in accordance with professional protocols, adjusted to the major implications of climate change?  Involvement of our scientific institutions in the industry realities of an altered environment, would encourage instruction that is relevant and spur the recruitment of new candidates, in all disciplines.

I suggest that with an increased funding budget in place, our objectives for Canada’s scientific institutes include the early synthesizing of new meat, layer and turkey so-called pure lines, as security for the future.  It makes infinite sense and is simply good citizenship to reinvest in biodiversity, for an industry that has been so generous to all in this hall.  A few precious pockets of pure lines exist here and there in foreign countries of which I am aware, they have evolved in sub optimum conditions of nutrition and disease exposure – and must not be permitted to vanish.  Biodiversity ins the lifeblood of our industry.

Some will wonder why I belabour this point.  It is from personal experience as a primary breeder.  Even my most enduring competitors went through the occasional experience of their trade name products permanently declining in performance, for no reason that was ever determined.

Shaver had a key male line that was instrumental in helping establish our international reputation, this line literally disintegrated in one generation.  We would have been ruined had there not been a Plan B.  In this instance, a replacement male line of equal merit, in a large pedigree population.  The switch was immediate and our commercial product didn’t miss a beat.

Keen competition has always encouraged primary breeders to serve the industry well, and today’s highly professional breeders are no exception.  However, every industry benefits from wise self-insurance.  My message is that the public research sector must be better funded, so that it comes out of semi-retirement and fully participates in the global drive to generate and maintain a high degree of biodiversity.

When I was a boy, the OAC strain of Barred Rocks were world renowned, as were White Leghorns from Agassiz in British Columbia.  Canada needs a return to that degree of lustre, on the part of our remaining public poultry institutes.

The poultry industry, more than most, is in for the long haul.  We efficiently produce foods that are nutritious, and hence ideally suited for a vital role in sustainable food production.  We have managed to utilize almost everything but the cackle! I suggest to you that it is now time to involve ourselves collectively, in the function and transformation of its supporting infrastructure. Particularly much increased and strategically located storage capacity for feed ingredients.

ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE
As a wandering chicken breeder in the 50s and 60s, I had both product and technology that was eagerly sought by the Communist regimes.  If they were to get value from my visits, they had to take me down the back concessions, and into the hinterland, were I saw first hand, their faltering system, warts and all.

I was in China first in 1958-59, long before it was popular to trade there.  We provided key meat and layer lines.  I didn’t return until after the Cultural Revolution, when I found our so-called Cornish were laying almost like Leghorns and vice versa! In those revolutionary times, the senior geneticists had never lasted even a year in their post, so there was no continuity and soon, few breeding programs worth of the name.

Perestroika in Russia probably had its beginning in Canada.  Alexander Yakovlev, the longtime Russian Ambassador to Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, was considered to be almost a dissident at home, and this was a reason he was banished to Canada.  He brought three agricultural delegations to our farms at Eugene Whelan’s suggestion.  Each time the delegations were led by the current Minister of Agriculture – one of whom was Mikhail Gorbachev.  At the subsequent dinners in our home, I practised identifying the Secret Police, who really ran the tours.  Usually these folks were also professional imbibers.  Whelan had noticed this same relationship.  Yakovlev and Gorbachev couldn’t find a way to talk privately.  Whelan obliged with a barbeque at his farm, then being a generous host to the entourage, and suggesting to Messrs. Yakovlev and Gorbachev that there was spectacular 10-foot-high corn in the centre of the neighbouring field.  In they went and managed a 20-minute conversation, without the Secret Service.  Shortly thereafter Gorbachev became leader and Yakovlev was withdrawn to become number three in Moscow.

FOOD PRODUCTION
We do not have a healthy agricultural industry generally, worldwide.  
For a sector that supplies the staff of life, how can this be? 

In the past, we have frequently responded to market demand by overproducing and flooding the market.  This becomes a cyclical morass, which destroys agriculture in impoverished countries, and creates growing numbers of “second class” citizens in the developed countries, who eventually give up and leave the land.

I believe there will soon be diminished emphasis on a globalized food supply system.  At issue will be food safety and the division and hence security of supply.
Consolidation of food processing at fewer and very large locations can be a risky strategy, on many fronts.  Into economy of scale, must be factored both food safety, and security of supply.  We have seen the need for this recently, with the listeria outbreak.

Canadian-based canning facilities have been steadily closed – this year for example, western Ontario’s peach producers scrambled to find canners in the U.S. who would take their crop – which in all probability will be re-imported to Canada.

These are not examples of sound Canadian food security.  Unlike Europe, North America has experienced no recent wars on its soil, to sharpen an awareness of the need to be substantially food self-sufficient.  Canadians need to produce and process more of the food we consume, government must guarantee a sound processing infrastructure to support such a policy, through grants and subsidies.

Close to 70 per cent of the food consumed in Canada is produced at distances as far away as China, yet statistics Canada shows that 44 per cent of Canadian farmers lost money in 2006.  A clear indicator of why our farmers are leaving the land.  Transport costs and attendance carbon footprint, will eventually dictate that very little of the food we consume, will originate beyond a 1,000-km haul.

By population, China is the world’s largest state; it wants not just more food, but a greater variety and higher quality.  With 43 per cent of the active population working the land, the Chinese are concentrating on increasing variety and productivity.  Rural poverty is severe, compounded as in the emerging world generally, by corruption, overzealous police, a poor educational system, and little medical care.

The Chinese government is determined to keep a firm grip on the country’s food supply.  They plan to grow their own food and thus control local prices.  They will not permit foreigners to own seed development and production businesses within China – this field of activity they have reserved for themselves, and focused government research funding is flooding in.  Their challenge is to provide 20 per cent of the world’s population with adequate food, on into the future, from only seven per cent of the world’s arable land.  This will require crops with much improved yields.  They are confident they can accomplish this themselves, and not become dependent on foreign science with its attendant royalty fees, and intellectual property issues.

Until hurricane Ike swept through Cuba, more than half of Havana’s food supply was produced in the city’s backyards, and sold in scores of markets around the city.  This is reminiscent of the Victory Gardens so successful during the Second World War – and a potential future food supply, with which we all should involve ourselves.

CLIMATE CHANGE/SUSTAINABILITY
Today, the world we populate is dominated by issues of universal  significance – climate change, population growth, migration, terrorism and regional economic disparity, on a grand scale.

I am old enough to remember the economic model of 1939-50 when we experienced a revolution in our societal and economic attitudes.  Confronted by the spectre of being subjugated by a totalitarian regime, we concentrated on survival and winning.  Cuts were made in resource use and consumption, whilst we mounted and enormous industrial effort, building tens of thousands of tanks, fighters, bombers and ships.  Food was rationed and scarce, but we ate a healthy fare.  There were extensive energy restrictions.  Yet public acceptance of curbed consumption was nurtured by having inspired leaders emerge.  We desperately need a 21st-century Churchill.

We seek sustainable economic growth, this automatically implies a lowering of expectations.

When I was born, the world’s population was 1.9 billion, today it is 6.7 billion, in 40 years it is projected to exceed 9 billion.  In the period 1970-2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows this growth per species – ruminants 50 per cent, poultry 186 per cent, whilst in these same years, human population grew 53 per cent.
In a world of declining supplies of finite resources, we are in need of enhanced scientific discovery.  Funding this should be on of our most compelling pursuits, much as we regard support for a favourite charity.  We must strive mightily to eliminate waste through utilizing all byproduct, and do so in a manner that requires minimum energy.  In short, our discoveries need to provide solutions without unintended consequences.

Politicians are adept at shirking leadership responsibility.  Few are well informed on this issues involved with sustainable economic growth.  In the developed countries we delay putting in place an essential new direction, because countries like Brazil, China, India, aren’t making significant CO2 reductions.  Surely the wealthy countries have an obligation to lead by example and take actions dictated by the scale and time frame of the problem.

Not everyone is sitting on their hands.  Japan from Spring 2009 will require carbon footprint labels on food, drinks, detergents and electrical appliances.  Breweries will show on their labels how much carbon dioxide is emitted by machinery used to plant and harvest hops and barley, then during the brewing process, distribution, and when the cans or bottles are recycled.  The Prime Minister asks the Japanese consumer to lead a “global CO2 reduction revolution.”

While most governments continue to postpone actions to deal with the clear consequences of climate change, you and I are not excused from individually involving ourselves in achieving progress through renovating homes and workplaces, for reduced energy consumption.  Assuring a sustainable supply of potable water, will entail a rethink of how we utilize this ultimate lifeline.

It is important if we are to enlist rank and file participation in reducing carbon emissions across everyday activities, that we do so as part of a broader understanding of all the implications.  GDP growth is largely responsible for the standard of living that has evolved in the developed countries.  The energy resources that made this steady growth possible, left the compounded carbon footprint, which we now struggle to contain and ameliorate.

We experience a great sense of relief when there are reports of massive oil and gas reserves in the Artic, promising a world supply for up to another 50 years – thus we have a reprieve.  We fail to understand that the climate change crisis confronting us, requires that we rapidly decrease our rate of consumption to arrest and stabilize climate change.  It is our survival on this planet that is at stake – not maintaining the status quo.

There isn’t an alternative presently known to man, that will safeguard the well-being of our grandchildren, short of immediate, co-ordinated reductions in C) CO2 emissions, to levels that will assure human survival.  The economics of the so-called marketplace alone, will not be able to accomplish this, for it is truly a Churchillian undertaking.  We can achieve timely downsizing, given that standard of leadership.

The last thing we can afford is reluctance to recognize that climate change is having far-reaching consequences.  We cannot continue sleep-walking toward the precipice.
If we are to build a more sustainable economic system, we must legislate a less reckless financial sector.  Neo liberal capitalism may create wealth, but not attempt is made to distribute this wealth with any degree of fairness, much less honesty.  One would like to see the emergence of both a moral and a financial/economic attitude toward the irreversible trends shaping our future.  Instead, we have apparently accepted a “CEO mythology,” replete with excessive salary, bonuses and stock options, pus a golden parachute on separation.  There is a lot wrong with a social order that condones such a shame on the part of corporate boards.

Deregulated capitalism has been proven to be bankrupt and while capitalism is not dead, the free market concept of Thatcher and Reagan, is terminally ill.  Never in the history of capitalism, have we seen such massive state economic intervention, as in the past six weeks.  The financial turmoil we are experiencing, may help condition us to deal urgently with the pending climate crisis, where the sciences, creativity, innovation, and co-operation, will be key. 

I propose for Canada, the establishment of a senior cabinet post responsible for all of Sustainable Economic Development, including the administration of a  Sustainable Commission, and the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations, as approved by Parliament.

This permanent Commission (with phased, rotating membership) to report direct to parliament. It would consist of 20 members, and be largely scientific in its orientation.
Canada’s low participatory electoral system has “imposed” on our politicians at the most, a four year time horizon, the usual interval between elections.  On the other hand, the Sustainable Commission’s mandate requires it to identify and prioritize issues for urgent solutions over the next 20-30 years.  In my opinion, its members must be non-partisan; to maintain focus and ensure achievable timelines, for we understand that research benefits take time.

The objectives of the Commission would be to establish scientific validation priorities for the vital elements in sustainability, so we understand both the benefits and the down side of proposed actions before they become government policy.  Initially, the Commission should develop three to five agendas for action, each covering a 10-year duration.  Canada cannot succeed in isolation, but can set an example by charting a new curse for ourselves, and being prepared to share our findings freely with other countries.  With our vast landmass, the issue of global climate change can only be appropriately addressed with Canada’s active participation.  We should be a catalyst for focused change.

Our industries and our way of life, will be required to adjust to an energy-constrained future, we are embarking on a second industrial revolution.

I believe that many of today’s urgent challenges can be met with solutions we already know about, or can quickly adapt and fine tune.  At question is what are you and I going to do to enlist and support committed, qualified, political leadership – prepared to set the course, budget wisely, then ably navigate through these tumultuous times?  I have not been speaking doom and gloom, but rather, have we the will to inform ourselves about the real pressing issues that will transform our future – and to do so soon enough, to exert a positive influence over humanity’s fate?