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November 03, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario


There are increasing concerns worldwide today with regard to agriculture, not only because of the surging demand for food and feedstock, but also because of rising food prices, input costs, food consumption made worse by dwindling food surpluses — not to mention the changing climate. In Canada, there are specific concerns about our ability to expand our agricultural productivity to respond both to our own needs as well as those of people in other parts of the world who are looking for plant sources that provide healthy foods and more environmentally friendly products.

What is more, the role itself of agriculture is changing by becoming foundational to a country's social and economic well-being. We are now talking about a bioeconomy with opportunities estimated at over $500 billion globally. It is expected that the bioeconomy will provide not only food to underdeveloped nations and the developed world, but also a feedstock platform for environmentally friendly fuels and industrial products, a source of new medicines and health care products, and new technologies to increase crop productivity. With its sparse population and large land mass, Canada has what it takes to play a significant role in this global bioeconomy, with benefits to our country.

Where does NRC fit in this? NRC is well positioned to play a key role in addressing global issues because of its strengths, particularly in genomics. For example, our researchers' ability to sequence the genome of plants means they can modify them too. NRC research is focused on ways to improve crop adaptation and productivity in response to climate influences and increasing global demand for healthier foods and feeds, environmentally friendly fuels and industrial products, and new energy sources. It follows, therefore, that we will need to integrate NRC's Agriculture Sector Plan with other key sector plans that we have identified. Over the years, the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon has established a strong relationship with Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC), with universities — namely the University of Guelph and the University of Saskatchewan — and with industry. It is NRC's objective to build on these relationships.

I should also mention biofuels, a research direction where NRC boasts diversified competencies that will be mobilized in pursuit of a national bioproducts initiative, in collaboration with AAFC and Natural Resources Canada. Promising areas include the production of ethanol from forestry and/or agricultural biomass; the development of biomaterials to provide environmentally friendly products; the use of biomass and municipal waste to produce energy; and the production of biodiesel from marine algae. In addition, the area of naturally occurring compounds (bioactives), which our institute in PEI is investigating, is a potential contributor to the development of nutraceuticals and could serve as a new model for interaction with AAFC and with universities.

The federal S&T strategy refers to agriculture and food science as an important element of Canada's innovation strengths. Clearly, NRC has a key role to play, especially with its capacity to put together multidisciplinary teams and work with partners.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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