Food Awareness Fortnight: Round Two
Sunday February 12th 2012, 05:39 PM
Filed under: Comment,Interview

According to Sarah Archibald, “food is all about stories.” And on Thursday night, six McGill activists had the opportunity to share some of their stories with the students eating at the Douglas Hall residence cafeteria.

There was an aura of magic in the wood-paneled dining hall that night. The rich scents of warm food danced between the long rows of tables and floated high up into the rafters. The yellow lights twinkled, and the soft murmur of conversation flowed about the room as the six speakers took their places and the finale of the Food Awareness Fortnight got under way.

Alex Briggs was first to take the stage. He reminded the audience that our addiction to exotic commodities (such as sugar) reinforces modern-day slavery and racism. He gave a compelling critique of the capitalist system, and suggested that rather than trying to destroy capitalism, we should be working to create something new and beautiful to replace it.

Next in line was Katryna van Vliet, who gave an optimistic talk about grassroots education – literally. Katryna helps run the MacDonald Ecological Garden, which aims to educate students on farming techniques. As she so eloquently put it: the Ecological Garden is “a living lab for students.”

Passion and enthusiasm surged from the next speaker, Sarah Archibald. Sarah shocked the audience with some little-known facts about the food we eat. Only three companies control all the corn production in the world; agriculture is 70% of the world’s fresh water consumption; 80% of the world’s poorest people are farmers. In light of the inequalities of a globalized food system, Sarah encouraged her listeners to “go the distance, so our food doesn’t have to.”

The spotlight then turned to Susanne Klassen, who coordinated the McGill Farmers’ Market this past fall. Susanne gave the audience some ideas of how they can become involved in work related to sustainability and food systems. She spoke highly of the Applied Student Research program, which gives students the opportunity to conduct independent research and receive school credit.

Following Susanne’s discussion of Applied Student Research, Will Agnew gave an account of his own personal research project, which is to make McGill Food and Dining Services Marine Stewardship Council certified. (Read more about Will’s efforts in the previous post!)

And last but not least, came Dave Morris, the coordinator of Gorilla Composting, which operates “Big Hanna,” the McGill composter that eats up 1 tonne of organic waste each week. Dave engaged the audience by explaining the pros and cons of composting, why it works better on small scales, and how students themselves could set up their own composters.

After the event, I spoke with Maria Mazzotta, the Food Systems Administrator for MFDS, who helped organize the event. I mentioned  “local food day” in my last post as something that had received a positive response from first year students. Maria pointed out some of the difficulties in obtaining local food on a regular basis. “It’s very difficult to eat locally on such a large scale.” However, she assured me that the cafeterias make an effort to serve local food every day. “It’s just particularly highlighted on the local food days.”

Reflecting back on the event after its grand finale, Russell Vinegar, its main coordinator, stroked his beard thoughtfully, leaned back in his chair, and nodded his approval. “We wanted this event to be thought-provoking, to spark conversations,” he said. “It’s about getting people to think about what their values are.” It wasn’t about indoctrination; it was all about stimulation. In short, Food Awareness Fortnight had the emphasis on awareness.

Kaitlyn Shannon 

Comments Off

Food Awareness Fortnight: Two Weeks of Sustainability at McGill’s Dining Halls
Wednesday February 08th 2012, 01:03 PM
Filed under: Comment,Interview,Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered what a bycatch is? Do you know what proportion of the fish we consume is farmed? Can you determine which fish species are sustainable and which are threatened?

Students at McGill’s residence dining halls learned the answers to these questions, and more, at last night’s episode of Food Awareness Fortnight. Organized by students working in collaboration with McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) and a number of campus groups, the event’s goal is to make students more aware of where their food comes from, and how they can make sustainable choices.

Last night’s “wheel of fortune” activity asked students questions about fish and oceans, and a correct answer earned a free piece of sushi. Events over the past week and a half have included a chocolate fountain to discuss fair trade, and the labelling of all corn products in the cafeteria to promote awareness of corn consumption.

I spoke to Will Agnew, a student researcher who played a key role in organizing the event. Agnew is currently working with MFDS to get the McGill dining halls certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for supporting sustainable fishing. Last night’s meal was accompanied by a slideshow with more information about what this will mean for McGill.

Amelia Brinkerholt, VP Environment on the Inter-Residence Council, was enthusiastic about the event. “The dining services have been really receptive to the idea,” she says. The staff are excited to be improving their services and have been cooperative and helpful to the students who have organized the two-week long event. Brinkerholt says she has seen a fair amount of enthusiasm from the rez students as well, who have been keen to eat locally and think about where their food is coming from.

However, when I walked around the cafeteria and spoke with groups of students, the results were mixed. Although many students were concerned about the food they were eating, these people had been aware of sustainability issues before the event, and generally already made an effort to eat locally. Others had less interest in sustainability. “If I have the option to eat locally, I do,” said one first year Arts student, “but I don’t go out of my way to do so. I’m more concerned with taste.”

Of the students I talked to, most were interested in eating locally if this option was readily available and did not involve significant extra effort on their part. The dining halls have a “local food day” every couple weeks, and this was immensely popular among the students, with many expressing a desire for this to expand or occur more frequently.

Despite the mixed response from students, MFDS remains committed to making its cafeterias more sustainable, and Food Awareness Fortnight is a huge step in the right direction. The two-week event wraps up tomorrow (Thursday) night at 6:30pm in Douglas Hall, where a speaker’s panel will address some of the complexities of our food choices.

For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Kaitlyn Shannon

Comments Off

Nuclear Energy: A Dangerous Blast From the Past
Thursday February 02nd 2012, 07:02 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

“We in the United States have been a nation for only about 200 years, yet we face the task of storing technetium-99 having a half-life of 200,000 years. Given the short span of our experience in handling these materials, how can we deal adequately with long-lived radioactive waste?”

- K. S. Shrader-Frechette


Proponents of nuclear energy claim the technology has become so advanced that there’s no need to worry. They would have you believe the cost of construction is cheap compared to renewables and the resulting energy is cleaner than coal or natural gas. Many of these ideas originate from the very people seeking to profit from nuclear subsidies – the nuclear industry itself. In 2011, the Nuclear Energy Institute spent over $2 million attempting to convince American politicians of nuclear energy’s merit. I’m here to say that we can do better.

If we have learned anything from the past few decades of nuclear buildup, it is that the risks clearly outweigh the benefits. In terms of health, the consequences remain yet to be fully realized, as many of the adverse effects of nuclear radiation take multiple generations to present themselves. Economically, nuclear programs cost massively in initial investments – money that would be far better spent looking into new forms of truly renewable energy. With our current revolution in green energy gaining momentum, regressing to dangerous and unsustainable nuclear technology would be a step in the wrong direction.

Health: Nuclear energy creates massive amounts of waste, and no current solution exists to dealing with it. Some suggest throwing this waste into the oceans, others like the idea of burying it deep inside mountains. One thing cannot be argued however; even under optimal circumstances, the effects of nuclear waste are far reaching and largely unknown.

As we have seen from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukoshima, and others, nuclear facilities are far from fail proof. When they do fail, as in the Chernobyl explosion, more than 100 times the radiation as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is released into the environment. Remnants of these radioactive isotopes stay in the soil and affect the health and wellbeing of communities long into the future. According to Nobel Prize nominee and physician Dr. Helen Caldicott, mutations of recessive genes caused by nuclear waste can take up to 20 generations to reveal themselves. That’s more than 500 years.


Economics: Despite the overly optimistic numbers the nuclear industry tends to throw out, nuclear projects in the past ten years have consistently gone over budget. In the United States assessments of 75 of the country’s reactors projected a 45 billion dollar construction cost. When completed, the actual number was 145 billion. The last ten reactors constructed in India, the country with one of the world’s newest nuclear programs, final costs have amounted to 300% of what was projected. Once constructed, these facilities require massive amounts of money to maintain operate under current safety regulations.

What, then, are we to do?

The world is obviously suffering an energy crisis, and with climate change looming overhead, we need new sources of energy – fast. Dr. Fenster is right to note that when looking at nuclear energy we ought not to compare it to an idealistic standard, but rather to judge it against its next best competitors. As Greenpeace accurately states, “Every dollar invested in electricity efficiency displaces up to seven times as much carbon dioxide as a dollar invested in nuclear power.”

Nuclear energy may be relatively clean, but supplies only 16% of the world’s electricity. At present, nuclear energy is used only to generate electricity, and electricity accounts for only one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Renewable energy facilities can be constructed far faster than nuclear plants, require less oversight, cannot be transformed into weapons of mass destruction, and best of all, have the potential to provide the world with energy independence hundreds of times over.

Nuclear technology has led to war, economic hardship, and health conditions we may never fully realize. We are right to say that nuclear reactors have a place in this world, and I propose it be the scrapyard.

Comments Off

Nuclear Energy: The Way of the Future
Wednesday February 01st 2012, 05:05 PM
Filed under: Comment,Uncategorized

“Had the nuclear era not started with warfare, we would certainly have had a much different attitude towards nuclear energy.”

Ariel Fenster, Professor of Chemistry and nuclear energy specialist at McGill, suggests that our very perceptions of nuclear energy might be our biggest obstacle to its expansion.

But let’s backtrack for a moment. Do we want expansion? In order to answer this question, let’s first look at some of the basics of nuclear energy.

There are two ways to produce nuclear power – fission and fusion. In today’s world, only nuclear fission is used. Fission involves the use of uranium isotopes, whose nuclei are bombarded with slowed-down neutrons. This impact causes the uranium molecules to split apart, and energy is released. Although there are various types of nuclear reactors, all function on this same basic principle – the splitting apart of uranium nuclei.

In Canada, approximately 13% of our electricity comes from nuclear reactors. All of these, except one in Gentilly, Quebec, are located in Ontario. This is a relatively low percentage compared, for example, with France, where 78% of electricity comes from nuclear sources.

Should Canada follow France’s example and increase it’s use of nuclear power? The question is fiercely debated. According to Dr. Fenster, we must look at the issue rationally, assessing it on the four qualities it is supposed to achieve and dispelling any misperceptions we may have. Nuclear energy is supposed to abundant, clean, cheap and safe. Is it living up to these standards? It seems that it is.

Abundant: In most nuclear reactors, water is used as both the coolant and the moderator. As one of the world’s most abundant resources, this is certainly not a limiting factor. The fuel, uranium, is potentially more limiting, but, according to Dr. Fenster, uranium resources are also abundant. Uranium is a common metal, found in rocks and seawater. Known uranium resources have increased substantially over recent years, as exploration continues. Next to Kazakhstan, Canada supplies most of the world’s uranium (about 22%). The majority of this is mined in Northern Saskatchewan.

Clean: Nuclear power doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide, making it an extremely appealing solution to those concerned about global warming and climate change. A nuclear power plant produces approximately 20 tonnes of waste a year, compared to 1 million tonnes produced by an equivalent coal-fired plant. “Nothing can compare to nuclear power plants,” says Dr. Fenster. If we wish to reduce our carbon emissions in any meaningful way, the answer is with nuclear power. Other forms of green energy such as wind or solar power simply don’t have the capacity to produce the amount of energy we need.

Cheap: Uranium as a fuel is significantly cheaper than coal. In fact, fuel costs for a nuclear power plant are typically one third of the costs of a coal-fuelled plant. Though the biggest cost in nuclear energy comes from the construction the plant itself, which can be quite expensive, the cheap fuel quickly offsets this initial sunk cost.

Safe: Safety remains the most contested issue in the nuclear energy debate. There are two major subjects that are brought up regarding safety: nuclear waste, and potential for accidents.

Nuclear waste can be dealt with in two ways. It can be reprocessed, and used again in nuclear reactors. This is only done in France and Britain, however. In most countries, including Canada, nuclear waste is kept at the site of the plant and stored. Critics of nuclear energy cite this as a threat, because nuclear waste is radioactive and can take thousands of years to decay. The challenge is to find a place to store this radioactive waste without letting it leak into the atmosphere. One solution has been to store the waste in abandoned salt mines. Fenster suggests that this is quite safe. He cites a natural fission reactor that occurred underground 2 billion years ago in Gabon. The fission reaction started naturally, and all radioactive material remained in the caverns underground without being released into the atmosphere. The same can be done in salt mines.

The second issue with nuclear energy safety is the prospect of a nuclear accident. This is especially important given the recent disaster in Fukushima. However, Dr. Fenster reminds us that when looking at the merits of something, we must compare it not to an idealistic standard, but to the next best alternative. “You can’t ask “is nuclear power dangerous?”” says Fenster. “You must ask yourself “what does nuclear power replace?”” While indeed nuclear accidents have occurred, coal fire plants, the next best alternative, are far more dangerous. Thousands of people die each year from either coal mining or from activities at the plant, compared with the couple hundred people who have died from nuclear power in the history of its existence. Yes, it’s important to assess risks, but sometimes it’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Finally, in looking to the future, we must remember that nuclear fission isn’t the only type of nuclear energy. Nuclear fusion, in which joins nuclei together, provides an even more compelling alternative. Although not yet functional, further research and development in nuclear fusion has the potential to create an undeniably clean, sustainable energy source without the major downfall of nuclear fission – its radioactive waste. Fusion not only gives off 1000 times more energy than fission, but also, as Dr. Fenster describes, “doesn’t produce any radioactive material, and this is a very important point.” Fusion, which is fuelled by hydrogen, the most prominent substance on earth, produces only helium and neutrons, eliminating the problematic radioactive waste of nuclear fission.

With this in mind, Dr. Fenster concludes, “nuclear power is with us to stay.”

Kaitlyn Shannon



The Boreal Forest: our land, our stories, our responsibility
Thursday November 17th 2011, 11:08 AM
Filed under: Comment,Conference review

“The greatest accomplishment of our people is that we left the land the way it was.”

Last night Chief Coon Come of the Grand Council of the Crees told the students gathered in a Stewart Bio lecture hall a story. Other cultures have left pyramids, monuments, and other great feats of architectural wonder. The Cree people have nothing of this sort to show for their thousands of years of living on their land. And yet, perhaps they have left us the most valuable wonder of all: the land, just the way it has always been.

Hosted by McGill’s Aboriginal Sustainability Project and the Canadian Boreal Initiative, the event, titled “The Boreal Forest: our Land, Our Stories, Our Responsibility,” seemed more like a celebration or community gathering than a lecture. For starters, the event was opened by Innu artist Kathia Rock from Maliotenam, a talented singer and guitar-player, whose songs had the whole audience up on their feet dancing, singing and clapping along with the music. I wonder when the last time a lecture in Stewart Bio was commenced with song and dance?

The theme of the event was respect for the land, and the three aboriginal leaders who told their stories to a captivated audience expressed this theme in diverse ways. Chief Coon Come discussed the importance of cooperation with First Nations people when pursuing the goal of protecting the land, and in particular the boreal forest. Coon Come described his people’s depth of knowledge of their land, as many of them choose to “live off the land” as hunters, trappers and fisherman. As such, these people need to be partners with governments or businesses who wish to establish projects in Cree territory. The Cree can provide guidance on which areas need the most protection, and on how development projects can avoid harming the land. For instance, Coon Come told a story of a logging company that dumped its waste into a river. If the Cree had been consulted, they could have warned the company that the river was a salmon spawning ground, and the fish could have been protected.

Coon Come, as well as Chief Paul Gull of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, highlighted that, contrary to the popular stereotype, their people are not anti-development. Rather, they want to be included in development projects and have their traditional knowledge heard and taken into consideration. For Coon Come, this is a way that the protection of the land can be ensured; for Gull, the emphasis is on the livelihoods of his people. In Gull’s community, 60% of the population is under thirty, and the majority of these youth are unemployed. Without job prospects in their communities, many young people are forced to leave the area, coming to cities like Montreal. However, development companies, such as those involved in forestry or mining, can provide local employment to his people, especially as traditional livelihoods continue to be threatened by declining animal populations, logging, and an increase in non-native fishing and cabins in the area. The challenge for Gull is finding the balance between taking advantage of the economic opportunities provided by development companies and continuing to support his people’s traditional ways of life.

The final speaker was Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the Northwest Territories and former Dene Nation President. Kakfwi spoke of the need to change our current system if we are to protect the land for future generations. He recounted a story that was told to him by an elder and spiritual leader, in which a being from another planet comes to earth and, upon seeing the destruction humans have wrecked upon their beautiful planet, the being has no choice but to destroy the human race. For Kakfwi, the problem is that the system we are living in has no spirit, and doesn’t recognize that the land, the water, the animals and all living things are sacred. But if we are united as First Nations, as Canadians, and as global citizens and learn to respect the sanctity of the land, we will be able to say proudly to that being from another planet that we have not destroyed, but rather protected and loved the beautiful land that is our earth.

Kaitlyn Shannon



Ottawa Tar Sands Action
Sunday November 06th 2011, 10:10 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

On September 26th, over 200 people crossed a police fence erected on Parliament Hill in Ottawa during the largest Canadian civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement. Eight McGill students were present during the protests, six of whom had biked to Ottawa the previous day to demonstrate their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. The following video contains excerpts of this historic day:

On the night of the 25th, I along with a fellow McGill student, took part in the direct action training held at the University of Ottawa. We were given presentations by First Nations leaders on the ramifications of tar sands extraction in their communities, Together with several hundred other protesters we went over how to react if somebody near us was being violent, what to do if the police began using force, and practiced techniques in deescalation. Luckily it didn’t come to that.

The actual protests were strikingly peaceful. The police and protesters found common ground based on mutual respect and an understanding that we are working towards a set of common goals. By the end of the day, over 200 people had crossed the fence and risked arrest but just over 100 people ended up being fined with trespassing. The police had been sufficiently overwhelmed by protesters that the last 60 or so protesters were allowed to walk free, without a ticket or an arrest.

The day held an air of warm, yet steadfast determination. People of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds emerged to take part in the protests, and everybody was welcomed onto the Hill. One man pushed his wheelchair up to the fence and was helped across the barrier with the help of some friends, while others ranged from grandma’s to high school students.

It was a powerful and historic event, and whether or not the Harper administration was listening, the unanimous sentiment among the McGill students involved was that it felt good to stand up and speak out.

Comments Off

Green Drinks…and it’s not St. Patrick’s Day!
Wednesday October 26th 2011, 12:07 PM
Filed under: Comment,Interview,Uncategorized

Smiles abounded in Gert’s bar last night, and not just from the dozens of jack-o-lantern faces being carved. Coming in from the crisp fall air, students flocked to the warm, yellow glow of Gert’s on Tuesday evening to carve pumpkins, drink beer, and collaborate. The SSMU Environment Committee’s “Green Groups Mixer” was meant to bring together students from McGill’s various environmental groups in a fun and informal way, in the hopes that this would lead to future collaboration on projects and ideas. MacDonald campus supplied the pumpkins, Gert’s supplied the beer, and students from various faculties supplied a plethora of enlightening conversations.

McGill is filled with environmental groups, from Organic Campus to Greening McGill, with dozens of others in between. They all have similar goals, yet do these groups really talk to each other and coordinate? Sahil Chaini, an environment student who is a Clubs and Services Rep to SSMU this year, thinks that there is still a lot of room for improvement. While organizations like SSMU Clubs and Services, or SSMU’s Environment Committee (EnviroComm) act as umbrella groups for McGill’s environmental clubs, there are rarely connections between clubs themselves.

But SSMU is working hard make some changes. Jane Zhang, who is part of the EnviroComm, believes that events such as tonight’s play a significant role in getting clubs to start thinking about their relationships to each other, so they can not only collaborate with each other on projects, but also avoid repetition in their initiatives. In addition to tonight’s event, the EnviroComm is working towards creating a new “Green Corner” on the first floor of SSMU, where various clubs can post their events and ideas, so everyone is up to date on each other’s activities. EnviroComm hopes to eventually hold monthly meetings with representatives from “green” clubs at McGill.

But why encourage such collaboration? According to Omer Dor, an engineering student who is coordinating the SSMU Case Competition for a new sustainable campus café, inter-faculty coordination is integral because environmental and climate change issues affect all of us, regardless of our backgrounds. In the very near future, those of us who are students now will be leaders in Canada, each in our respective fields. We will need to work together to tackle issues of sustainability and climate change, and collaboration needs to start now. Dor says that we’re certainly not at an adequate level of coordination yet, but that events like this one show that we are at least on the right track.

Kaitlyn Shannon 




Comments Off

Moving Planet Montreal – Video
Saturday October 15th 2011, 10:46 AM
Filed under: Uncategorized

Video by Alex Pritz


Comments Off

Moving Planet Montreal
Saturday October 15th 2011, 10:41 AM
Filed under: Uncategorized

By: Ben Harack

Moving Planet was a worldwide event that took place on September 24th, 2011. It was conceived by the folks over at as an effort to help the world transition away from fossil fuels.

The Moving Planet event in Montreal (which took place in Parc Jeanne-Mance) was planned by local volunteers and a few McGill students. All we got from was the name and the logos. We did get some very significant help from the David Suzuki Foundation (Montreal chapter) with regards to planning and execution of the event as well as media releases.


Kilometer Drive

The event included what we called a ‘kilometer drive’ in which people could contribute their green-transport kilometers to a collective total. A green kilometer would be one achieved on foot, bike, skateboard, roller blades, unicycle, etc. The goal of the kilometer drive was to demonstrate the power of active transportation.

Our group achieved a total of 496 kilometers by the end of the day, using some unconventional methods such as:

  • Juggling
  • Juggling a soccer ball with just feet
  • Passing a Frisbee between three people
  • Singing
  • Hand-in-hand
  • In another person’s shoes
  • Dancing
  • Carrying a toddler in ‘airplane’ position the whole way.

Moving Planet Montreal organizers and friends.


I think it is sufficient to say that we had a great time with the kilometer drive. Next year we think it would be an excellent idea to get active transport groups involved in the planning and execution of the event. Montreal definitely has communities of cyclists, skateboarders, joggers, rollerbladers, etc. We think it is reasonable that some of these groups might be interested in showing off the capabilities (and fun) of their chosen mode of transport.

I like to think of the kilometer drive as a celebration of the tremendous human capability to achieve active transportation. By doing so, we are improving the long-term health of both our environment and ourselves. A transition towards less energy-intensive transportation is a must in the decades to come. It seems extremely unlikely that we as a society will be able to continue to spend such incredible amounts of energy on our personal transportation systems. This seems likely to be true even if we do not factor in the broad and substantial costs of continued fossil fuel usage by our societies.

Grand Picnic

The other major thrust of the event was a ‘grand picnic’. The central idea was that food plays a major role in both our everyday lives and the (un)sustainability of our society. We all brought food and shared it. It was a delicious and fun experience. I wish you all could have been there!


More worthwhile things

After the event, the planning volunteers got together and brainstormed ideas for a media release about the event. I think it is fair to say that Nadine Légaré of the David Suzuki Foundation did the vast majority of the work on this front, but we did help a bit! A quote from me appears in our completed media release, which you can find here (in French): Le rassemblement mondial Planète en mouvement, un succès au Québec

I am also rather proud of a sheet I circulated containing what I think are the ten most important things you can do to live a ‘Green Life’ and help our society towards genuine sustainability. I made a distinct effort to keep the list concise and clear, so hopefully you will find it to be a good read. You can find it at: Envisioning a Green Life: 10 ways you can make a difference.

Comments Off

McGill Global Food Security Conference: Days 2 and 3
Friday October 14th 2011, 09:41 PM
Filed under: Conference review

The morning after David Morley’s public lecture, a more distinguished looking crowd gathered in the elegant basement ballroom of McGill’s New Residence. The speakers sat near the front of the room, their conversations casual, yet brimming with intellectual flair. The remaining round tables housed businesspeople representing the conference sponsors, as well as members of the Montreal community. Scattered near the back sat a few students, standing out rather markedly from the rest of the crowd.

I attended the first two panels of the day. Each panel was an hour and a half long, and consisted of four speakers, followed by a question and answer period that involved all the speakers together.

The first panel was titled “Food Security and Natural Resources,” and the speakers addressed various questions concerning the use of natural resources, given the rapid increase in population and the growing demand for food around the world. Amit Roy was first to take the stage, and spoke about the benefits of fertilizer. He argued that increased use of fertilizer is vital to future food security: there is only so much arable land available, but with the use of fertilizers, we can achieve increased yields without devoting additional land to agriculture. However, he criticized the lack of research and development in this key field, citing that this $150 billion dollar per year industry spends less than 0.1% of its budget on research. He hopes that his centre will be able to provide this research and improve fertilizer technology.

Brent Patterson, the following speaker, spoke about how regions such as Alberta are key in producing food for a growing population. Alberta is well-endowed with rich farmlands and water resources. With additional crop and irrigation technology, this province could significantly increase its food output. The next speaker, Mark Rosegrant, followed Patterson’s speech by presenting a positive view of these problems. Rosegrant suggested that increased energy prices, increased use of energy in agriculture, and problems accessing water, are actually beneficial because they provide incentives to produce new technology and create better farming practices. It is only when we face great need that breakthrough inventions such as biofuels and food modifications take place.

Finally, David Hallam suggested that all of these positive changes could take place more easily if responsible Foreign Direct Investment is encouraged. Developing countries need FDI to access technology and increase production, but this investment will only be beneficial for all parties if we establish rules regarding responsible FDI, and limit bad investment and land grabbing.

“Food Safety, Trade and International Markets” was the title of my second panel. I found them to be particularly lively as a whole, and kept the audience interested and engaged in the discussion of global market challenges and solutions.

Robert Thompson echoed the sentiments of the previous panel by emphasizing the strategic importance of food. He expressed his concern, however, that food security has largely been off the development agenda since the 1980s. Moreover, research funding for agriculture has dropped significantly in recent years, yet we cannot hope to reach a world in which every country is self-sufficient without improvements in agricultural technology.

Ronald Doering also stressed that the actions of developed countries are significantly hindering the ability of developing countries to reach self-sufficiency. He specifically discussed the issue of food safety regulations, saying that stringent food safety regulations are often used as protectionist measures by Western countries. He stated that “you can’t separate science and politics” and developing countries need to set up fair trade regulations, rather than hide their political agendas behind the “science” of rigorous food regulations.

Spencer Henson, a dynamic and well-spoken professor from the University of Guelph further commented on food regulations and the food production focus. The increasingly stringent food regulations are due to the fact that we are no longer simply concerned with the final product for consumption. Instead, we have a “system focus,” in which we are concerned and interested in regulating the whole production process. Henson suggested that the private sector can play a key role in filling in the gaps on these standards, and ensuring that they are fair for all parties involved.

Finally, Bruno Larue brought the discussion back to developing countries, outlining how market failures can be particularly devastating for poor people. While consumers in the developed world can easily substitute their consumption when prices change, poor farmers in developing countries are victims of price volatility – they have few consumer goods to choose from, and generally have a minimal array of products to sell. Thus, they are particularly vulnerable to price changes, especially when these are exacerbated by trade barriers.

I left day 2 of the conference with many new perspectives to mull over, but with a general sense of hope in the ingenuity of the human race.

The following morning I arrived again at New Residence Hall, this time to hear the panel on Public-Private partnerships. This panel addressed many of the problems brought up by speakers in the previous lectures. In general, the speakers focused on the ways in which public-private partnerships can overcome market failures. The speakers commented how public private partnerships in agriculture can fill in the “missing” middle, by bridging the gap between smallholders and commercial markets. Having partnerships between public and private actors can encourage investment in agriculture, which, as had been mentioned in previous discussion, is integral to food security.

Kaitlyn Shannon

For more information about the conference and the presenters, or to find out how to get involved at next year’s conference, visit:


Comments Off