What We Heard Report - Canadian Grain Commission Science Strategy

Introduction

The Canadian Grain Commission is the federal government department responsible for administering the Canada Grain Act. Its mandate is to, “in the interests of the grain producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets”. Section 14 of the Act requires the Canadian Grain Commission to undertake, sponsor, and promote research in relation to grain and grain products.

The Canadian Grain Commission’s research and science-based activities are conducted in the Grain Research Laboratory. The work in the laboratory contributes to the entire grain value chain and benefits Canadians as consumers of grain products. Collaboration with grain sector partners keeps the Canadian Grain Commission aware of new research developments and helps it adapt its research priorities to address emerging challenges related to the quality and safety of Canadian grain.

The Canadian Grain Commission is developing a Science Strategy to support innovation, research and science-based activities, and provide a vision for the future. A Science Strategy will:

  • help focus our research and science-based activities on emerging trends in grain quality and safety
  • ensure that science continues to underpin Canada’s grain quality assurance system
  • direct mid and long-term decision making
  • guide investments in the organization’s research and science-based activities

To help inform the Science Strategy, the Canadian Grain Commission held a stakeholder engagement process from February 10 to March 31, 2022.

Engagement process

The Canadian Grain Commission emailed a Science Strategy engagement document, including an overview of its scientific work, to stakeholders and invited them to respond. Recipients included producer and industry organizations, end users, academia, federal government, provincial government, and internal Canadian Grain Commission staff. The document included questions that could be used as a guide to solicit feedback. The Canadian Grain Commission also posted the document on its website.

After the engagement process closed, the Canadian Grain Commission solicited additional responses to fill gaps where necessary, ensuring that feedback was robust. The Canadian Grain Commission also considered submissions from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canada Grain Act Review that specifically related to research and science-based activities.

Stakeholder submissions

The Canadian Grain Commission received a total of 39 responses: 24 from external stakeholders (12 from producer and industry organizations, 5 from end users, 5 from government and 1 from a university) and 15 from internal employees and programs. This report summarizes the submissions received and the Canada Grain Act review submissions.

What we heard

Current research and science-based activities

Consistent with the feedback received through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canada Grain Act Review consultation, respondents were satisfied with the current research and science-based activities carried out at the Canadian Grain Commission. Several respondents indicated that the activities carried out within the Grain Research Laboratory align with and contribute to the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate. Most respondents affirmed that the Grain Research Laboratory is currently focusing research in the appropriate areas.

Climate change and global sustainability

Many respondents identified the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on grain yield, quality, safety and end use functionality as areas for future research in the Grain Research Laboratory. Specific to barley, one respondent indicated quality risks caused by climate change could include a higher incidence of pre-harvest sprouting, fungal growth that causes mycotoxin production, pre-mature yeast flocculation and beer gushing. Respondents also identified the assessment of microbial risks in grains, changes to structure and/or composition of grain, emerging mycotoxins and method development as areas that had the potential to be impacted by climate change. Several respondents suggested that future research could focus on gaining a better understanding of how the adoption of sustainable crop production practices (e.g., reduced fertilizer use, reduced overall carbon footprint and demand for different varieties) may impact yield, quality, safety and end use functionality.

Plant-based proteins

Several respondents identified the trend towards increased consumer demand for plant-based proteins and the opportunity it creates for new markets as something that could impact grain research and science-based activities. Several respondents indicated that this has broadened the quality and safety information requirements on pulses. One respondent noted the growth in domestic value-added processing for pulses requires more detailed and variety-specific information.

To address this trend, several respondents highlighted the need for additional research on the pulse and oilseed grains that are being used more frequently as protein sources for human consumption. A common theme was the need to understand the variability in factors that affect quality traits in pulses and how this variability affects end use functionality in both traditional and new or emerging pulse crops. Several respondents indicated a need to develop analytical methods to assess new specifications and quality factors for pulses.

Several respondents suggested the Canadian Grain Commission should research protein standards for pulses and food grade soybeans to facilitate marketability and end use functionality. One respondent indicated that individual variety and regionally specific quality data for pulses is becoming increasingly important and that there is a need to discriminate pulses based on their suitability for an end use application. One respondent suggested there could be an opportunity to expand research into the effects of incorporating alternative protein sources (such as insects) into grain products.

Market access and trade issues

Several respondents indicated that market access challenges (e.g., pesticide residues, mycotoxins and genetically modified organisms) will continue to increase and so will the demand for Canadian Grain Commission activities to maintain market access.

Stakeholders recommended that the Canadian Grain Commission proactively conduct research and monitoring activities to ensure it is ready to respond to non-tariff trade barriers and market access challenges related to grain quality and safety. One respondent indicated that it is critical for the Canadian Grain Commission’s cargo monitoring program to be able to respond quickly to growing pressures related to maximum residue limits of pesticides in crop products and that communication on emerging issues between the Canadian Grain Commission and stakeholders continue. An opportunity was identified to expand testing of fumigants and other crop protection products where data could assist in assessing risk on changing international markets that impact grain trade.

Rapid technology use in grain grading

Many respondents indicated that there is a continued trend, as well as a desire, to move from visual inspection towards more rapid and objective methods for grain grading, including imaging technology. To address this trend, respondents indicated that the Canadian Grain Commission consider investing more resources in the research, assessment, and validation of rapid objective testing technology and imaging technology that could be used throughout the grain value chain. Several respondents indicated that this is an area for potential collaboration with commercial technology companies and instrument manufacturers. One respondent also emphasized the importance of following the technology transfer template previously developed when evaluating technology for assessing grading factors. This template includes the requirement that the technology be acceptable to customers of Canadian grains.

Big data technologies

Numerous respondents indicated an increasing trend towards big data analytics. Respondents indicated that opportunities for biostatistics, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are available and growing.

Respondents indicated that big data technologies would allow the Canadian Grain Commission to approach science in new ways and may result in increased efficiency and impact current and future research initiatives. Several respondents indicated that research related to these technologies could provide opportunities for the Canadian Grain Commission to develop objective, transparent grain grading and quality assessment technologies.

Several respondents indicated the need for an open data strategy to release Canadian Grain Commission data sets on grain quality and safety through the Government of Canada’s Open Data portal. Data sets specifically mentioned by respondents include wheat quality and chemical residue.

Food recalls

Some respondents identified the increase in recalls associated with grain-based foods due to the presence of pathogenic bacteria as having an impact on future activities. Linked to this, is a trend for consumers to eat grain products that are traditionally intended for further processing (e.g., flour) or that are marked as ready-to-eat. Some respondents indicated that the increased consumer demand for nutritious and healthy foods is another trend that could potentially impact research and science-based activities in the Grain Research Laboratory.

Respondents indicated that the increase in grain-based food recalls could result in an increase in research and analysis required for detecting the presence of pathogenic bacteria in raw grain, potentially including research into how agronomic practices impact bacterial counts. One respondent indicated that the Canadian Grain Commission could consider conducting research on how grain processing affects quality, safety, nutritional composition, and the quality of end use foods or ingredients. Respondents also indicated there could be additional testing requirements and additional preventative statement requirements based on health claims and consumer demands related to grain products (e.g., allergens).

Expansion of research and science-based activities

While there were individual submissions where respondents suggested a specific research area or science-based activity that could be scaled back, respondents were not unanimous in their recommendations. Respondents recommended that consultations and enough time be provided for industry to adjust if research or science-based activities were scaled back.

Most submissions focused on suggestions related to where the Canadian Grain Commission could expand research and science-based activities to further support the grain quality assurance system and respond to market access and emerging trade issues. One respondent recommended that research undertaken and sponsored by the Grain Research Laboratory be informed by economic and market research when it is being considered for implementation in Canada’s grain quality assurance system, especially with the regard to the interests of the grain producers.

Crop research

Most respondents indicated support for the crop monitoring and research conducted by the Canadian Grain Commission. Respondents expressed broad support for current research related to harvest quality, the effects of grading factors on end use properties, and developing new uses for Canadian grain.

Several respondents had suggestions on how existing crop research could be expanded at the Canadian Grain Commission. They proposed that it include ways to support the marketability of corn as well as emerging crops such as fababeans, dry beans, chick peas and lupins. They also recommended that additional research be conducted on non-traditional crops such as buckwheat.

Several respondents recommended that the Canadian Grain Commission consider researching the functionality of grains in non-traditional end uses such as biofuel, bioproducts, feed/livestock nutrition, and protein/starch extractions. They also suggested broadening the research focus from primary grain production and handling to include value added grain co-products (e.g., straw and by-products).

Several international respondents highlighted the importance of continued research related to factors that affect the end use functionality of Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat, including changes in CWRS variety composition, environmental factors, and year-to-year variation in wheat quality. Other respondents recommended additional research into how quality factors and protein in other grains (e.g., pulses and oats) impact end use functionally in newer plant-based protein products (e.g., oat milk). It was also recommended that research focus on the impact of grain quality factors on grain processing performance to provide additional insights on how to better process grains to develop innovative food products. Additionally, respondents indicated that there was a need to continue existing malting and end use research for barley. Several suggestions were provided for future milling / malting research. One respondent also noted the important role the Canadian Grain Commission currently plays in oat variety development.

Several respondents identified a need for research to better understand how grading factors impact end use functionality. This would ensure tolerance levels are properly set to balance quality assurance with producer compensation.

Technology research

Respondents expressed broad support for current monitoring and research activities related to grain safety and biotechnology. Numerous responses underscored the importance of current capabilities for monitoring genetically modified events, mycotoxins, and trace element levels in grain shipments; identifying the Canadian Grain Commission as being well positioned within the Canadian grain industry to collect this information.

Several respondents shared examples of Canadian Grain Commission scientists and monitoring data that were valuable in developing Canadian and international regulations. A respondent indicated that in one case, Canadian Grain Commission data prevented the unwarranted adoption of new regulatory constraints in the form of maximum limits of mycotoxins.

In terms of new activities, one respondent suggested that the Canadian Grain Commission could take on an expanded role in validating rapid test kits for mycotoxins. Another respondent recommended expanding research on the effects of processing on chemical contaminants. Methods to detoxify mycotoxins in grains was also suggested as an area for further research. One respondent pointed out that beyond cereals, customer and consumer perceptions around chemical residues are an important consideration for soybeans.

A respondent noted that Canadian grain customers continue to have questions and require additional information related to biotechnology. They indicated that this is an important area that could be expanded to further support and respond to market access and emerging trade issues.

Cargo quality monitoring

Respondents indicated that cargo quality monitoring and analytical testing of export grain shipments for quality and safety factors is an important and valuable component of Canada’s grain quality assurance system. Several respondents pointed to the important role that data generated through these activities play in helping to resolve market access issues. Respondents indicated that the long-term data generated through cargo quality monitoring are reliable; however, some gaps were identified (e.g., certain grains and container exports). One respondent suggested including monitoring of plant pathogenic and quarantinable microorganisms.

New variety registration supportFootnote 1

All respondents who commented on the quality evaluations conducted by the Grain Research Laboratory in support of variety registration were supportive and indicated that this work is important to the industry. One respondent suggested that this work be funded entirely through government appropriations.

Harvest Sample Program

Most respondents indicated that the Harvest Sample Program provides valuable information not only to producers but also to grain marketers and buyers. According to one respondent, the data generated and posted on the Canadian Grain Commission website cause confusion for customers of Canadian wheat as Cereals Canada also generates harvest quality information.

Several respondents suggested the Harvest Sample Program could benefit from increased communication and outreach. The program could then expand to reach more producers, include more samples, and represent more of the crops grown across Canada. One respondent identified the need to expand the testing program to include fat analysis of pulses. The same respondent indicated the need to expand quality testing of pulses beyond peas and lentils to include crops such as chick peas, dry beans, and fababeans. Another respondent suggested that resources dedicated to the Harvest Sample Program be increased to facilitate more extensive food and feed safety analyses.

Analytical Services

Respondents indicated support for the Canadian Grain Commission’s Analytical Services and testing on a fee-per-service basis. One respondent suggested that Canadian Grain Commission testing will become increasingly important because of non-tariff trade barriers and market access challenges related to grain quality and safety. One respondent expressed concern about the limited capacity of the Canadian Grain Commission to complete fee-for-service testing in a timely and flexible manner. Another respondent also indicated that there may be an opportunity to expand services to meet a demand for ingredient processors to submit samples for functional analysis to a trustworthy laboratory.

Funding

Several respondents commented on research funding at the Canadian Grain Commission. Most stated that research is a public benefit and recommended that the Grain Research Laboratory be funded solely by, or to a greater degree through, government appropriation. This is consistent with the stakeholder input received through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canada Grain Act review process. Respondents noted that a stable funding model, independent of grain inspection and weighing revenue, is necessary to conduct long-term research that is relevant to producers and the grain value chain. They noted that this funding should be independent of private industry and not be a short-term grant funding model like that used by academia and research institutes.

Infrastructure and technology

Several respondents raised concerns over the inadequacy of the Canadian Grain Commission’s laboratory spaces and equipment required for research and day-to-day activities. Several respondents recommended that the Science Strategy include a plan for obtaining new facilities and equipment to ensure the Grain Research Laboratory can meet future research needs. In addition to the physical space, respondents identified a need to modernize and upgrade technologies and to have a plan that allows a quick response to changing technological advancements and innovation.

Collaboration and communication

Many respondents said that they appreciate and welcome opportunities to collaborate and consult with Canadian Grain Commission staff on research and science-based activities. While respondents indicated that Grain Research Laboratory staff already collaborate extensively with external stakeholders, there were numerous suggestions for additional opportunities, including:

  • increasing the collaboration, coordination and sharing of laboratory space and equipment with other federal government departments and agencies (e.g., Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Environment Canada)
  • increasing the scientific and operational collaboration with the Federal Grain Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture
  • collaborating with academic institutions, provincial governments, other science-based organizations, private laboratories, and industry stakeholders to solve ongoing challenges and mitigate grain trade risks
  • collaborating with variety developers, industry and end users on unique processing quality and nutritional traits to capture premium markets for Canadian grain

A few respondents indicated there is not enough awareness of the research being done at the Canadian Grain Commission among grain industry members and producers. They emphasized the importance of greater and more consistent communication.

Next steps

All feedback received during the engagement process will be considered as the Canadian Grain Commission develops its Science Strategy. Thank you to everyone who submitted their comments and suggestions.

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