Review of Agri-Food Innovation Forum (Toronto, Canada, June 19-21/05)

The Agri-Food Innovation Forum, subtitled Food, a Healthy Value Proposition, held at the Toronto Hilton Hotel June 19-21, 2005, was the first in an annual series planned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, MaRS Landing, and Ontario Agri-Food Technologies. The purpose was to provide a venue for discussion of key issues related to food and health and to foster collaboration across health and agricultural sectors in Canada.

It was clear from the onset that this was a ground-breaking conference by its inclusion of highly respected academic, government and industry members as contributors from primary and value-added agriculture and public health. The theme of the current unsustainable approach to healthcare and the need to direct agriculture toward innovative food and health product development for the prevention and mitigation of chronic disease resonated with all participants.

Forum Highlights:

· For many jurisdictions, healthcare is close to 50% or more of available tax dollars and this trend of consuming an ever increasing proportion of the budget for pharmaceuticals, expensive technologies and interventions shows no sign of slowing.

· Obesity in Canada, US and globally is epidemic, contributing to a dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and certain cancers. Obesity is increasingly referred to as ‘the new tobacco’.

· Advances in nutrigenomics (nutrition customized to the individual), nutrition research, and food/health product development offer clear options for changes in lifestyle that can prevent or mitigate the current healthcare crises.

· Innovative growers, wholesalers, product developers are already capitalizing on the growing trend for consumers to ‘want it all’ from their food choices. This includes the usual desires for competitive cost, good taste, nutritional value, and convenience but increasingly price point, taste, and lifestyle compatibility are given and the consumer is making more decisions based on food attributes such as health benefits, GMO status, sustainability of food production, fair trade, and animal welfare.

· Traceability of food products is increasingly important. Although consumers assume food safety is a given, recent issues (BSE, toxic dyes) are publicly highlighting the limitations to the current systems. This coupled with growing interest in credence attributes such as GMO status and the desire for producers to rapidly identify beneficial attributes in breeding lines of plants and animals are forcing primary producers/suppliers to develop traceability systems.

· Innovation in the food industry is still low relative to most other industries. Regulatory challenges, especially for label claims on nutrition and/or health benefits, and for recognition of intellectual property are major obstacles.

The health demographics in Canada and globally clearly show that the focus for healthcare has to shift towards chronic disease prevention. The cost of focusing on treatment rather than prevention is economically and ethically unsustainable. The significance of agriculture, especially in support of high quality, healthy food production and in innovative product development for meeting energy, industrial feedstock and health value-added bioproducts (e.g. functional foods, natural health products), is paramount in responding to this challenge.

Provided to NPIcenter by:

Ann Eastman, Ph.D.
Manager, Emerging Sectors
Trade and Intergovernmental Relations Branch
Strategy, Policy and Legislation Division
BC Ministry of Agriculture and Land

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