Meeting Minutes - Ralph C. Martin: Food Security - Oct. 12th. 2017
This meeting was opened by President, Ed Herold, at Trinity United Church at 9:00 am with 40 members present and one new guest, Mike Morris.
President Herold welcomed new member, Paul McKeracher, recently approved by the Board. Also welcomed was Martin Wagner, who has already paid his membership fee.
The President informed the membership of the newly revised meeting format wherein all Club business and announcements are to be conducted at the outset of the meeting rather than at the end of the allotted meeting time. This format is to allow the meeting to be formally ended at 11:00 am sharp and allowing members who wish to leave due to time constraints, to do so. However, the guest presenter will be allowed to continue to respond to members questions, if necessary, while continuing to use the microphone and permitting members to remain seated for an additional short period of time.
Announcements Activities – Ray Biffis - Visit to the Electric Railway Museum in Acton on October 21st.; - Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11th at the Sleeman Centre and Ron Durst will be laying the wreath on behalf of the Club. Lunch afterwards will be at Diana Restaurant for those interested. - Christmas Dinner luncheon on December 14th at $40 per person; Please sign-up; - A River Cruise is being considered with more information coming later.
- Coffee next Thursday at both the Boathouse and Airpark Café – everyone is welcome.
- Our next speaker on October 26th will be Tuuli Kukkonen who will speak on: Aging and Sexual Arousal.
Julian Sale introduced today’s guest presenter, Professor Ralph Martin. Ralph Martin has degrees from Carleton University and his doctorate from McGill University and is now a professor at University of Guelph. His approach to sustainable food production is to produce enough food to meet the dietary needs of today while preserving productive capacity for future generations and other species. This means maintaining healthy soil and water and regenerative energy to support resilient farming and efficient communities. His research involves collaborative enquiries across the industry. His training and specific contribution pertains to multiple crop and forage agronomy and pasture management and nitrogen use. The department that Professor Martin works in is Canada’s largest and most diverse applied plant biology department. The research intensive department at the Ontario Agricultural College is dedicated to teaching and research in services in horticultural crops, turf grass, landscape species, and field crops.
Doctor Ralph Martin -- Food security with a Fair society and with Earth security Doctor Martin began by acknowledging that the University and the area all around Guelph are the ancestral lands of the Attawandaron or Neutral People who were here for thousands of years and they learned to balance production and consumption during that time, so we should give them respect.
To set the context of his talk he said today we have more than seven billion people, almost a billion cats and dogs and 1.2 billion cars, all consuming from agricultural production. There are 0.9 billion people who suffer from eating too little food and 1.6 billion people who suffer from eating too much food. Also, to put into context is that in North America and Europe we waste 40 percent of our food and in North America that is nearly all from within the household. In the developing countries, most of the waste is in post-harvest because the food can’t be stored properly. Ironically production is greater than food sales and greater than consumption. In an ideal world we need to have sufficient production balanced by adequate healthy consumption.
Agricultural economists say that by 2050 we will have 9 to 10 billion people and in developing countries as average incomes rise, we will be consuming more meat and richer food and then there is a priority to increase food production by 70 to 100 percent.
Dr. Martin thinks we should look at a plan B. Plan B would be to educate more girls and women in developing countries and maybe we can come in at under 9 billion. The UN has known that as women and girls have more education they have fewer children. The other thing that needs to happen is to reduce food waste. We could also focus on eating less meat while also focusing on quality of meat or perhaps eat more pulses and beans. Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most common varieties of pulses. Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, and are low in fat. We could also eat edible insects. There are now companies that are developing crickets that eat decomposing food waste.
When we look at who is actually doing the farming in the world today there are 500 million small scale farmers and most of them are women. However it is the women who do most of the work while it is the men who own the land and there is a disconnect on the decisions about growing the food. If women had more control they could feed many more people.
Another factor is that on average many meals are eaten in cars so there is a real appetite in Canada for cheap and convenient food. The Canadian Agri-Policy Food Institute (CAPI) has reported that two-thirds of health care costs in Canada can now be attributed to chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. A lot of this is due to unhealthy eating. And the US food industry targets 2 billion dollars per year to children. They want to promote food and beverages high in sugars and fats while below the recommended nutrients. Much advertising is directed at children for junk food.
Dr. Martin postulates a hypothesis that it would be cheaper to provide all children and low-income families with free fruits and vegetables than to continue to pay health care costs. This would apply by providing only Ontario fruits and vegetables to only Ontario people.
A researcher at the University of Toronto talks about food security and food insecurity in households. She has shown in her research that annual health care costs in contrast to food secure households are higher if there is marginal food insecurity in the household … 23% higher. If there is moderate food insecurity then the health care costs are 49% higher. If there is severe food insecurity then the annual health care costs are 123% higher. People are sometimes focused on whether or not there is enough food. In Ontario, there is plenty of food. People will argue that there are people starving but that is a poverty problem, not a food security problem.
Adopting the precautionary principle - How do we retool food systems to take an "upstream" public health approach that addresses the ecological, social, and cultural determinants of production and consumption. The precautionary principle is about being very careful about making any changes and to think about implications towards health and so on up the stream when we get to consumption.
There are some who don’t agree with the precautionary principle and they say if we take too much time thinking about the precautionary principle we will end up with nothing to eat. However, organic farmers think a lot about the precautionary principle so there’s a tension within the whole agricultural system.
Hugh Segal, who was a Canadian Senator, reminded us that more than three million Canadians have inadequate income to provide sufficient food, shelter and clothing and he recommends a guaranteed annual income and this has become a talking point for many. The Fraser Institute – a right-leaning group – has also talked about providing a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI). They argued that it would be much cheaper if we adopted a guaranteed annual income rather than a plethora of the programs that we have. They think we should focus on adopting a GAI and not worry so much about the reason why people are below an adequate income. They think it would be much cheaper to administer. There are people talking about this from a food security point of view and now Agricultural Canada is looking a new food policy. But the main driver these days is the fact that we are facing automation and there are politicians concerned about more people without work and looking at a guaranteed annual income is a possibility.
Another point is about meat eating. Meat consumption has been growing over a number of years as the population goes up and people are eating more meat and this requires more animals and thus more crops to produce more feed for cattle. China for instance is looking at reducing the amount of meat eaten by humans. In North America, meat consumption per person is starting to decline.
Dr. Martin also talked about healthy food from healthy animals. He talked about forages which he believes are the best plant classes in the world; Grasses like Timothy and Blue Grass, legumes like alfalfa, clover and trefoil. They are good for the soil because they have root systems that are good for the soil. They add nitrogen to the soil, and they improve water infiltration. There is lots of data coming out that shows that ruminants like sheep and cattle that eat forages produce meat and milk that is higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acids) which are good for us. And a lot of grazing animals require fewer anti-biotics. Fewer anti-biotics if also better as anti-biotic resistance increases.
Animal scientists have done a wonderful job at improving feed conversion ratios. It used to take six to seven kilograms of grain to get one kilogram of broiler meat. Now it takes about 1.7 kilograms of grain to get that one kilogram of broiler meat. The thing is that we’ll never get to one to one. This is about as good as it will get. The challenge in animal production is to try to retain the benefits of animal products while feeding animals feed. Going back to forages – forages can be consumed by ruminants with four stomachs which can convert the nutrients of forages to meat and milk. Humans will never be able to do that. Forages are a category of feed. Other categories of feed are co-products from the processing industry. And there are other products that animals can eat that humans cannot.
Around Ontario there are many food processing plants that produce animal co-products that are going to waste but these could be converted to feed for animals and thus have animals eating less grain.
There are about 1.2 million hectares of arable land in Ontario used for animal feed production. If we thought about how we could reduce this and use more co-products we could reduce the land that is used just for feed for animals and make that land available to grow food. This would involve a whole lot of choices by consumers and farmers all along the value chain. Dr. Martin just wanted to put this thought out there so that we understand that there are a number of different ways that we can approach this. If we looked at Ontario through fresh eyes and decided that we wanted to use the land in a different way this would be an option.
Regarding food waste – we could feed about one billion extra people of we just used current technology and applied it. Thirty-one billion dollars is wasted every year in food waste in Canada. Households in Canada spend $153 per week on food. Assuming that half of the 40% that is wasted in the household, that is, 20% of the household waste we are throwing out, that equates to $31 per week we are throwing away. Data shows that organic shoppers spend $27 per week more than people who buy non-organic food. So, here’s a possibility: we could make a choice to buy organic food, and make a choice to stop wasting food and you could still save money. Data shows that the more guilty one feels about wasting food the less food they will waste. People with more food awareness waste less food. Most people say that wasted food is a social issue. It’s also an economic issue.
Principles of wasted food are …. reduction, reduction, reduction …. and eating left-overs. There are now organizations that take food after banquets to people who need it and who would otherwise not have enough food. The next category of using wasted food is to use it for livestock. This is one of the co-products that reduces the need for grain. If it’s not suitable for livestock then it can go into a food digester that breaks it down by bacteria which then becomes suitable for an energy source or for nutrients that can be put back on the farm. The last thing is to divert the waste to land-fill.
Dr. Martin thinks it should be in the kindergarten to grade 12 curriculums that we have more food skills and food literacy and this would lead us to produce less waste. We would do a better job at math and science if we integrated them with food skills. It matters to us because everybody touches food at least two or three time daily.
Dr. Martin then spoke a little bit on climate change and how we are getting too much or too little water at the wrong time and temperatures that are too high or too low at the wrong time for crops. At the University of Guelph’s Elora Research station there has been a long-term trial over 35 years experimenting with crop rotation. What has become really clear over the last 35 years is that corn yields in the complex rotations like corn, wheat, soy beans, and small grains like barley and oats, are higher in the complex rotations than in the simple rotations like corn, soy, corn, soy. A good yield is better in a good weather year and this is pronounced even more in a bad weather year. So, in any year the corn yield is higher if the corn is part of a complex rotation rather than a simple rotation.
There are about 350,000 plant species and we only use about 300 plant species for food but only 17 provide 90% of all human food. The three big ones are corn, rice and wheat and they provide over 50% of all human food. If we go into an era of more uncertain climate change, not only will we have to look at different varieties of corn, soy bean and wheat, we will also have to look at completely different varieties of species and perhaps go back to how our ancestral forefathers looked at food when they had a much broader range.
We are reaching some planetary boundaries. In the last two hundred years man on earth has had a huge impact on the planet. We have much less genetic diversity than we should and there is a crisis of species that we are losing. We have way more phosphorous and nitrogen that is soluble in our biosphere than we should have.
Dr. Martin concluded that whenever we think about food and the food system, it’s very clear that every faith group has some tradition about being thankful for food and Dr. Martin thinks that is really good. It’s about an attitude of gratitude.
Following a question and answer period Julian Sale thanked Dr. Robert Martin and presented him with a token of appreciation on behalf of the Club.