AIC Notes    Top Issue 2011-29      August 11, 2011 
In This Issue
Ottawa Packs in Provincial Slaughterhouse Inspections
Taking it to the Extreme
Recognition of Fertilizer Value and Proper Management of Manure Builds
CFIA Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Weed Seeds Order, 2005
Report: Canadian Emissions to Rise on Back of Tar Sands Boom
EU Food Safety Experts Advise Against Antibiotics
Monsanto Launches First GM Sweet Corn
What Counts is the Water That Actually Enters Plant Roots
Major Breakthrough on How Viruses Infect Plants
Poultry Farms That Go Organic Have Significantly Fewer Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
Coming Events

Ottawa Packs in Provincial Slaughterhouse Inspections


The union that represents federal meat inspectors says Ottawa is putting Canadian lives at risk by pulling its inspectors from a number of meat plants in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has warned that, as of January 2014, it will no longer do the job of ensuring the safety of meat packed in provincially registered plants in those provinces.

The agency points out that, in all other parts of the country, these inspection services are delivered by provincial and territorial inspectors.


"Food safety is CFIA's top priority and the inspection regime in federally registered plants will not change," Gerry Ritz, the federal Agriculture Minister, said in an e-mail. "We are working with these provinces to ensure a smooth transition of inspection services over the next three years while maintaining the highest food safety standards."


But Bob Kingston, the national president of the Agriculture Union, said in a letter to Mr. Ritz on Wednesday that the move means meat from provincially registered facilities in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan will likely fall below acceptable standards.


It "will certainly be beneath the standards and meat inspection practices enjoyed by Canadians living elsewhere," wrote Mr. Kingston. "For example, the provincial meat inspection systems in Alberta and Ontario are well established and well supported, so meat inspection conducted in these provinces will be superior."


It takes a long time to hire new inspectors and provide the necessary training and the deadline of 2014 that has been imposed by the CFIA is "unrealistic," he said in the letter.


"With less than half of the required budget, these provinces will be faced with inspecting all provincially registered meat production facilities with an inexperienced staff that is not big enough to cover the territory and which lacks the necessary supportive infrastructure," wrote Mr. Kingston.


In addition, he wrote, the provincial meat inspection standards are often much less stringent than those that are in place for federally registered facilities.  It is a fact that he said was demonstrated recently at a plant in British Columbia which opted out of the federal regime and then registered as a provincial facility after a federal meat inspector found an dangerous E.Coli contamination.


"The bottom line is that by walking away from this responsibility, the federal government is needlessly exposing consumers in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba to elevated risks from eating meat produced in provincial registered establishments," wrote Mr. Kingston.


The CFIA has come under fire for a number of years for understaffing meat inspection. A report into a deadly outbreak of listeriosis in 2008 found that the agency did not know how many inspectors were in its employ.


Even though federal meat inspection resources have been stretched, the agency, like all other federal departments, must suggest ways to trim five per cent or 10 per cent from its budget as part the Conservative government's plan to find $4 billion in ongoing savings across the board.

Cathy Airth, the associate vice president of the operations branch with the CFIA, said the decision was made because the agency wanted to focus on its core mandate which is federally regulated facilities.


"But it would be fair to say that, because this was done under contract and there was a cost recovery angle, that we were not actually being paid the costs that it cost the agency," said Ms. Airth, "We were being paid somewhat less."


The provinces were told about the change in June of this year and that the agency would work with them to ensure a smooth transition, she said.


"We are very interested in making sure that there are no issues related to food safety," said Ms. Airth.


Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, August 10, 2011


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Taking it to the Extreme


The last decade has dished out some weird weather in southern Alberta. The pattern of flooding one year and drought the next is becoming the norm, and scientists want to know why.

Climate change due to global warming has been one answer tossed around that scientists are now out to prove.

Armed with $2.5 million from the federal government, a group of researchers will descend on southern Alberta's rural agriculture communities to find out if the weird prairie weather is connected to global warming, and how it affects those who live off the land.

"If you look just at the weather records, the worst flooding and the worst drought we've had since weather stations were established has been in the last 10 years," said University of Regina geography professor ad research scientist David Sauchyn, who is heading the new five-year study.

"Which kind of suggests it's related to a warming climate, but we need much more data if we are to statistically, or scientifically, confirm that."

The climate change expert said media has long been attributing extreme weather changes to global warming, but scientists aren't quite sure yet.

"In theory, if you heat up the Earth you should get more extreme weather, but of course we need to verify that," he said.

Although researchers will be looking to connect extreme weather to global warming, a larger part of the project is to find out how people in the prairies are affected and how they deal with it.

Sauchyn and his colleagues want to know what kind of strategies people have in their community or on their farm to minimize the impact of extreme weather.

"We want to learn how do people deal with extreme weather because the whole basis of the project is that if in fact we (can) expect more extreme weather from global warming - and we know the planet is warming, that's unequivocal," said Sauchyn.

"What we don't know is can we expect a greater number of these extreme weather events as a result of global warming?"

If scientists can indeed validate that theory, Sauchyn said the next question is whether what people currently do to deal with wild weather is sufficient, or whether government involvement is needed to look at new ways of dealing with extreme weather and minimizing the cost of its havoc.

"We know that the most costly natural hazards in all of Canada are always extreme weather on the prairies," he said, noting a severe drought 10 years ago cost about $4 billion, while the recent flooding is fast approaching $1 billion.

"These floods and droughts, not only do they displace a lot of people, but they cost our economy billions of dollars. That's really a function of the fact that 'A', the prairies has more than 80 per cent of all the agricultural land in Canada, and 'B', we have one of the most extreme planets in the world. There aren't too many places on Earth where you can get drought in one year, and flooding in the next."

Scientists will study two different regions in Canada, the Swift Current Creek basin in Saskatchewan and the Oldman River basin in Alberta, as well as places in Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil where similar weather changes are happening.

Once the fall harvest is done, Sauchyn and his crews will begin talking to people in the agriculture community who have been affected by the weather of late.

"We're going to talk to as many people as we can in a few communities in the basin," said Sauchyn.

"We can't talk to everybody, (but) we want to make sure that the people we do talk to represent a good cross section of people's attitudes and values and incomes and socio-economic standing and so on."

The project has taken on partners Agriculture Canada, Alberta Agriculture, and the Oldman Watershed Council to help researchers contact and organize meetings with key people.

Although most of the meetings that will take place won't be public, Sauchyn hopes that those who are contacted to participate in the study will opt to.

"There will be a structured questionnaire and every person will be asked the same questions in the same order," explained Sauchyn.

After five years worth of data is collected, Sauchyn said the data will be compared amongst the countries studied.

"But also we want to involve our community partners, not just in helping us find respondents, but also in the interpretation of the results," he added.

Scientists on the project don't want just their peers in on the study, so they plan to go back to the communities where they gathered data, present the results and get the people's take on it.

"If we want to see this project have any influence on what people think and do, we have to involve the people themselves in the research."

Sauchyn, studying the climate science side of the project and whether a link can be made between extreme weather and global warming, has already gotten started collecting evidence of climate change from the regional forests.

"In the Oldman River basin there's some really old trees, the pine and douglas fir and so on, and they record the changing of the climate over the past 1,000 years," he said. "We'll be using information from trees, but also from climate models, these complex models that actually simulate the future climate, so we'll compare the climate of the past with the climate of the future to see how it's changing."

Sauchyn was born in Alberta. A graduate of the University of Alberta, he is now based at the University of Regina's Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) where he researches adaptation to climate change.


Jamie Woodford, Lethbridge Herald, August 8, 2011


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Recognition of Fertilizer Value and Proper Management of Manure Builds


A researcher with the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre says awareness of the fertilizer value of the nutrients contained in livestock manure continues to build.


The second annual Soil and Manure Management Field Clinic, hosted by Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute and the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Livestock and the Environment, and underway today at the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre at Portage la Prairie, is focusing on soil, nutrient and fertilizer management.


Curtis Cavers, a potato agronomist with the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre, says with the price of commercial fertilizers continuing to rise, there's an opportunity to recycle manure nutrients in a way that will benefit both livestock and crop producers.

Clip-Curtis Cavers-Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre:
In manure management there, I think people are seeing the value in fertilizing the right amount, placing the right rate, the right placement, the right timing, and the right source of fertilizer for whatever the needs are.

It's kind of what we call the Four R approach in managing primarily nitrogen and phosphorus.

I think equipment choices, along with our knowledge of how to manage these nutrient sources, has improved over the years, so that we know the best way to apply it, when, and at what rates.

We can figure out a good calculation rate on these things now and actually achieve those target rates with the equipment that's out there, so over-applications should be a lot less frequent and a lot less likely to happen.

Hopefully with the right management, too, that whatever nutrients are applied, are applied in such a way that they stay where they're supposed to, and not move off to non-target areas.

Cavers says people are recognizing the value of the nutrients contained i
n manure, which will hopefully create a demand for it.


He says once you have a demand for a product, it's going to treated with value, and over-application and misapplication should be minimal.


Bruce Cochrane, University News, University of Manitoba Faculty of Agricultural and Food Science, August 5, 2011


CFIA Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Weed Seeds Order, 2005


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is currently conducting its second round of consultations on proposed amendments to the Weed Seeds Order, 2005. These amendments include proposed class definitions, the Weed Seeds Order, 2005 structure, and species placement.


The Order classifies weed species into six classes to establish purity standards for seed in Canada.


The Weed Seeds Order, 2005 plays a critical role in preventing new weed seeds from being introduced into Canada. If new weeds are introduced into the country, they can cause significant economic and environmental consequences, by affecting Canada's agricultural sector and its biodiversity.


The previous consultations were held in February 2010. The results of the previous consultations will be combined with those of the current consultations. The combined results will be considered during the regulatory process.


The CFIA requests feedback on the proposed revision to the Weed Seeds Order, 2005 by September 15, 2011.


The consultation document can be requested by email. 


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Report: Canadian Emissions to Rise on Back of Tar Sands Boom  


Canada is unlikely to meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, thanks to the continued expansion of its controversial tar and oil sands industry.


That is the conclusion of a peer-reviewed report from the government-backed Environment Canada agency released late last month, which warns that anticipated emission reductions from electricity generation and other areas of the economy will be more than offset by a huge increase in emissions from tar sands developments.


The report, Canada's Emissions Trends, was released with little fanfare late last month. But it has been subsequently promoted by the Pembina Institute green NGO, which has highlighted the figures as evidence of Canada's failure to deliver on its international commitment to curb emissions.


The report predicts that greenhouse gas emissions from Canada's tar sands will more than triple from 30 million tonnes a year in 2005 to 92 million tonnes a year by 2020.


The increases far exceed the 31 million tonnes reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent that the agency expects to result from a shift from coal-fired power to natural gas and renewables.


The report concluded that with emissions from transport and agriculture also set to rise, Canada is currently on track to see annual greenhouse gas emissions increase by 54 million tonnes by 2020 against a 2005 base line.


The oil sands industry has challenged the projections, insisting that improvements in efficiency will result in more modest increases in emissions from the sector, while carbon capture and storage technology could ultimately lead to reduced emissions.


However, the report will further embolden green groups and businesses that maintain that oil extracted from tar sands represents one of the most carbon-intensive fuels in the world.


Incisive Media Investments, August 9, 2011


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EU Food Safety Experts Advise Against Antibiotics


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published an assessment of the impact on public health of the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. EFSA's Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ Panel) concludes that the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals is a risk factor for the spread of certain bacterial strains. The experts recommend that decreasing the overall use of antibiotics in food-producing animals in the EU should be a priority and that that an effective option would be to restrict or stop the use of cephalosporins in the treatment of food-producing animals.


In its assessment, the BIOHAZ Panel evaluated the risks to public health of bacterial strains producing two types of enzymes; extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) and AmpC beta-lactamases (AmpC). These enzymes inactivate the effects of antimicrobials such as penicillins and cephalosporins which are defined as critically important antimicrobials for both human and veterinary medicine.


EFSA's Panel experts conclude that different bacteria are able to produce these enzymes, most often Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella. Since 2000, ESBL/AmpC-producing Salmonella and E. coli in animals and foods have been increasingly reported both in Europe and globally. These resistant bacterial strains have been found in all major food-producing animals, most frequently in live chickens and chicken meat, eggs and other poultry products. In addition to identifying the relevant bacterial strains, the opinion also looked at epidemiology of resistance caused by ESBL/AmpC enzymes and the methods for detection of this type of resistance.


The BIOHAZ Panel analysed the risk factors contributing to the occurrence, emergence and spread of ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria and concluded that the use of antibiotics in general (and not only that related to cephalosporins) is a risk factor for the spread of these types of resistant bacterial strains. The experts concluded that decreasing the overall use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals should be of high priority in the EU as these bacterial strains are often resistant to many other commonly used veterinary drugs. It was also concluded that an additional risk factor is the extensive trade of animals in EU Member States.


John Strak,, August 9, 2011


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Monsanto Launches First GM Sweet Corn


Monsanto Company is launching its first genetically modified sweet corn seed this fall, the company announced. This is the company's first commercial combination of its biotechnology with a consumer-oriented vegetable product.


The corn will be a "triple stack" sweet corn that will be targeted to consumers. This sweet corn has been modified to tolerate the company's Roundup herbicide and will have the ability to fight off insects that might attack the plants, said Consuelo Madere, Monsanto vice president of the company's global vegetable business.


The size of the launch is unknown as Monsanto did not indicate specific numbers. Instead it said the launch would be "very, very small."


This is the company's first biotech vegetable launch. However, this is not the first genetically modified sweet corn.


Colleen Scherer,, August 8, 2011


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What Counts is the Water That Actually Enters Plant Roots  


To help farmers make the best use of limited irrigation water in the arid West, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers are helping farmers determine how much water major crops actually need.


Tom Trout, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Water Management Research Unit (WMRU) in Fort Collins, Colo., and his colleagues are measuring crop water-use efficiency not by the traditional measure of crop yield per drop of irrigation water applied, but instead yield per drop of water actually taken in by the crop.


ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and the research supports USDA's commitment to agricultural sustainability.


Trout is in the fourth year of a study to determine how much water the four crops common to the High Plains region-corn, wheat, sunflower, and pinto beans-actually use.


Regenesis Management Group, LLC, in Denver, Colo., has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with ARS to create monitoring instruments and software for a web-based application being designed by the company, known as SWIIM™, or Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management™. Contributions to SWIIM™ are also provided through a research and development agreement with Colorado State University at Fort Collins.


Trout and his colleagues designed the study to find out if limited irrigation is best for farmers for each of these crops and to help with irrigation timing, amounts, and other options. The four crops are being grown with six levels of irrigation, from full irrigation down to only 40 percent of full.


In the first three years of the study, each acre of land produced about 10 bushels of corn for each inch depth of water consumed, or one pound of corn for each 60 gallons of water.


These results will help farmers in this region decide whether to put all their irrigation water into producing corn, or to reduce either their irrigation levels or the amount of land they plant, and sell or lease water rights on the rest.


These results are preliminary and may vary with different timing of water applications or newly developed varieties.


The scientists plan to extend the results over a wide range of conditions throughout the central high plains.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by USDA/Agricultural Research Service.

USDA/Agricultural Research Service (2011, August 9). What counts is the water that actually enters plant roots. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/08/110809111812.htm 


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Major Breakthrough on How Viruses Infect Plants 


In a major breakthrough that helps us better understand how viruses cause diseases in plants -- and potentially in animals and humans -- Dr Ming-Bo Wang and Neil Smith of CSIRO Plant Industry have revealed a genetic mechanism that enables viral organisms to infect hosts and cause diseases.


"Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) is a common, destructive virus that affects a wide range of food crops and ornamental plants," Dr Wang said.


"What we found was that CMV, accompanied by a special type of viral particle called a 'satellite', causes its distinctive yellowing symptoms in plants by slicing a gene that makes chlorophyll, the green pigment in leaves. By preventing the production of chlorophyll, the virus causes the leaves to become partially or entirely yellowed which dramatically affects growth and productivity."


Importantly, Dr Wang and Mr Smith determined the exact gene affected by this virus -- a gene called CHL1.


"Pinpointing this gene represents a major step forward in understanding exactly how some viruses cause disease symptoms in susceptible organisms," Dr Wang said.


Until recently, scientists did not fully understand why viruses only affected a small range of host organisms. This discovery shows that the accompanying satellite gene of CMV must directly match the host plant's genes to cause the yellowing disease.


When the viral satellite's genes match the host plant's genes, the satellite genes 'lock' onto and slice the host's genes, preventing the host from forming green chlorophyll pigment.


"Think of it as like doing up a zipper on your jacket -- two opposing but different sections have to come together for it to work," Dr Wang said.


"So one half of the 'zipper' genes come from the virus and the other half of the genes from the host, and when they match up the virus causes disease."


This finding means researchers can focus on finding genes in viruses that match known genetic sequences in plants, and this can help to reveal the cause of diseases by other viruses.


Knowing how CMV causes symptoms, Dr Wang and Mr Smith also experimented to see if they could block the viral disease in plants. They created specially altered plants with an extra copy of the chlorophyll-producing gene. This gene had been changed so that it no longer matched the viral gene, allowing the plants to produce the green chlorophyll pigment.


Remarkably, this small change in genetic makeup prevented the plants from becoming yellow and diseased but did not change any other aspects of the plants' growth, habit or form.


This research was funded by CSIRO and the Australian Research Council (ARC) and will be presented at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, 23-30 July 2011.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by CSIRO Australia.

CSIRO Australia (2011, August 9). Major breakthrough on how viruses infect plants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/08/110810093833.htm 


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Poultry Farms That Go Organic have Significantly Fewer Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria


Antibiotic use in conventional animal food production in the United States has created public health concern because it has been shown to contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can potentially spread to humans. A new study, led by Dr. Amy R. Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, provides data demonstrating that poultry farms that have transitioned from conventional to organic practices and ceased using antibiotics have significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria.


The study, recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to demonstrate lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria on newly organic farms in the United States and suggests that removing antibiotic use from large-scale U.S. poultry farms can result in immediate and significant reductions in antibiotic resistance for some bacteria.


"We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock that was produced after the transition to organic standards," explains Sapkota, an Assistant Professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. "It is very encouraging."


Sapkota and her team, which included R. Michael Hulet (Pennsylvania State University), Guangyu Zhang, Sam Joseph and Erinna Kinney (University of Maryland), and Kellogg J. Schwab (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying ten conventional and ten newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials.


"We chose to study enterococci because these microorganisms are found in all poultry, including poultry on both organic and conventional farms. The enterococci are also notable opportunistic pathogens in human patients staying in hospitals. In addition, many of the antibiotics given in feed to farm animals are active against Gram-positive bacteria such as the enterococci. These features, along with their reputation of easily exchanging resistance genes with other bacteria, make enterococci a good model for studying the impact of changes in antibiotic use on farms," Sapkota explains.


While all farms tested positive for the presence of enterococci in poultry litter, feed, and water as expected, the newly organic farms were characterized by a significantly lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci. For example, 67% of Enterococcus faecalis recovered from conventional poultry farms were resistant to erythromycin, while 18% of Enterococcus faecalis from newly organic poultry farms were resistant to this antibiotic. Dramatic changes also were observed in the levels of multi-drug resistant bacteria (organisms resistant to three or more antimicrobial classes) on the newly organic farms. Forty-two percent of Enterococcus faecalis from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant, compared to only 10% from newly organic farms, and 84% of Enterococcus faecium from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant compared to 17% of those from newly organic farms. Multi-drug resistant bacteria are of particular public health concern because they can be resistant to all available antibiotics, and are therefore very difficult to treat if contracted by an animal or human.


"While we know that the dynamics of antibiotic resistance differ by bacterium and antibiotic, these findings show that, at least in the case of enterococci, we begin to reverse resistance on farms even among the first group of animals that are grown without antibiotics. Now we need to look forward and see what happens over 5 years, 10 years in time," says Sapkota.


She expects that reductions in drug-resistant bacteria on US farms that "go organic" are likely to be more dramatic over time as reservoirs of resistant bacteria in the farm environment diminish.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Maryland, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

University of Maryland (2011, August 10). Poultry farms that go organic have significantly fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/08/110810085537.htm 


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Coming Events


Canadian Society of Soil Science and Soil Science Society of America joint conference, Fundamental for Life: Soil, Crop, & Environmental Sciences, San Antonio, Texas, October 16-20, 2011


Feeding a Hungry World: A Summit for Animal Agriculture, Ottawa, Ontario, October 17-18, 2011 


Catalyst Canada Honours Celebrating Champions of Women in Business, Toronto, Ontario, October 18, 2011


2011 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Acadian Entomological Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia, November 6-9, 2011  


Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, National Hemp Convention, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 21-21, 2011 


Canadian Organic Science Conference, February 21-23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba 


6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012



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Frances Rodenburg, Editor