This research chair is designed to be a national leader in the facilitation of understanding and responding to challenges and opportunities of new crop genetics by focusing on the core issues of governance, regulation and trade in order to add value to the genomic sciences.

Innovation is an integrated blend of science and governance. Regulation is an integral part of the innovation cycle however, it is crucial that these regulations be efficient and economical. If Canadian regulations are efficient, economical and harmonized, then barriers often posed by regulations in the cycle of innovation, will be minimized. In the global economy it is crucial that Canada have a competitive regulatory framework as multinational corporations can move fiscal resources to jurisdictions with more efficient regulatory frameworks. In essence, the optimization of the regulatory framework for genomic innovations will greatly contribute to facilitating international trade in the resulting products. Genomic research is one of the tools needed to address food security concerns, yet due to a variety of governance challenges, namely that regulations can be, and are being, used to restrict trade and adoption of these innovative technologies, it will take more than scientifically-derived  yield increases to minimize the challenges of dealing with food insecurity.

Regulations pertaining to food, plant agriculture and biotechnology, all have an impact on agriculture’s ability to improve food security. There is a direct connection between agri-food regulations and improving food security. An important component of the research will be to address the use of regulations as international trade barriers that have the probability of negatively impacting food security by restricting developing country farmers from accessing the technologies.

Industry has provided funding to the Agri-Food Innovation Chair for a duration of five years to further pursue research of agriculture, food, innovation, and sustainability. Dr. Smyth intends to meet his research objectives through four phases during his role as Chair. 

Phase I: Economic and Environmental Impacts of Innovative Crops

Dr. Smyth was a principal investigator on a 2006-2009 project that examined the economic and environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) canola and changes in herbicide use in Western Canada. There is a need to repeat and expand this research to include all of the GM crops being produced in Canada. This expansion of the research would include the production of GM corn and GM soybeans in Central and Eastern Canada. This data will provide the Canadian agriculture industry with new insights as to what crop production impacts have occurred and are occurring at the farm level. It will reinforce the research on regulation and governance as this segment of research will provide concrete examples of the benefits to Canadian farmers, the agriculture industry and consumers from the efficient commercialization of new technologies. This research phase involves the following activities:

  • Activity 1: Gather benchmark and present crop rotation data in Canada
  • Activity 2: Compare the datasets and document the changes/impacts
  • Activity 3: Apply the findings to enhance current research understanding regarding biotech-derived canola, corn and soybeans
  • Activity 4: Write and publish the results of the research
Phase II: Assessing Regulatory Harmonization Opportunities and Accelerating Commercialization

While Canada enjoys a reliable regulatory system for the introduction of new agricultural practices and bioproducts, that system is seriously challenged by genuinely transformative practices and products. When a new agricultural bioproduct is judged by our regulatory system to be a novel food or crop, an environmental threat or a drug, that product often stalls in the regulatory process, stuck in systems developed for the problems of yesterday, not today. Nobody benefits from stalled inventions: for Canadians to get their money’s worth from investment in science R&D, our scientists and developers of new products need to be evaluated and accepted or rejected as quickly and efficiently as possible. This research aims to identify new models for governance of transformative agricultural technologies, to ensure that research is used efficiently to benefit Canadians. Economic analysis shows that the biggest returns to innovation often come from getting the institutions right—this project is designed to do just that. This research phase involves the following activities:

  • Activity 1: Critical analysis of the literature on Canadian and American regulatory frameworks
  • Activity 2: Identify the scientific underpinnings for both regulatory frameworks, define the details of the ‘rules of regulation’
  • Activity 3: Establish what constitutes ‘evidence’ with the regulatory systems
  • Activity 4: Identify where regulatory duplication exists within Canadian regulatory agencies and between Canadian and American regulatory agencies
  • Activity 5: Evaluate strategic opportunities that exist for harmonization and establish what ‘evidence’ would be required by regulators to act
Phase III: Impacts from International Trade Barriers to Innovative Crop Agriculture

The science of transgenic research is one of the tools needed to address future food security concerns, yet due to a variety of governance challenges, transgenic crops have witnessed a restricted adoption. Governance issues are rapidly becoming, if they have not already become, the deciding factor regarding the innovation of transgenic crop varieties. The rise in governance issues for transgenic crop research has increased over the past decade and especially been due to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the efforts being made to increase the level of regulation, especially in the areas of co-existence and socio-economic considerations. The reality is that neither of these issues are expected to decrease in importance over the coming decade and will in all likelihood increase. These issues are crucially important to the Canadian agbiotech industry, both in terms of domestic commercialization of new crop varieties, but also in the ability to export the final commodity. This research phase involves the following activities:

  • Activity 1: Critical analysis of the literature on the international regulatory frameworks
  • Activity 2: Identify the structures and principles used to create regulations at this level
  • Activity 3: Determine how regulations can be trade barriers and estimate the impact on food security
  • Activity 4: Assess how socio-economic considerations are being used as barriers to innovation