August 2016

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Please Sir, may I have some more beef?

UAlberta's Sangita Sharma has discovered some frightening nutritional inadequacies in Alberta's children. Read here why she believes eating more beef is the answer.

Gentec conference 2016: The cows are coming home

One of the most noticeable additions to this year’s Gentec conference is the amount of dairy-specific content on the agenda.  
On Tuesday morning, during the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry sessions, a session will address the increasing engagement of consumers in evaluating their food choices around sustainability and animal health. The beef industry will discuss the recently completed McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Pilot championed by the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. The dairy industry’s proAction Initiative, retail and food service representatives will talk about what they are hearing from consumers, what steps they have taken, and where focus is likely to shift to next.
The second day is packed full of information for both beef and dairy producers.  Mike Coffey and Alison Van Eenennaam with lead combined sessions, with beef and dairy producers discussing advances in genomics and technology applied in beef or dairy production, and on activities yet to be applied in the “other” bovine sector.
The rest of the day will be separated into beef- and dairy-specific sessions. On the dairy side, Gert Schrijver of Alberta Milk’s Research Committee will provide an update on Alberta Milk’s Health Dairy Herd Program: the program, the partners, and its focus on animal health programming. Other topics will include feed efficiency in the dairy herd and the Genome Canada Feed Efficiency Project.

For more information and to register, click here.

Blog/Video: Genomics for all

Gentec partner BCRC bring to this post/video all you ever wanted to know about genomics--and more. It's accessible but complete, and has special emphasis on how the livestock industry uses this technology.

As a bonus, Gentec-associated researcher John Basarab and Reynold Bergen (member of our Management Advisory Board) are part of the webinar towards the bottom of the post.

Bringing home the hardware (not from Rio)

UAlberta and Gentec representatives distinguished themselves at the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS-ADSA-CSAS) joint conference in Salt Lake City in July. Hats off to:
  • Mike Steele for the Lallemand Animal Nutrition Award for Excellence in Dairy Nutrition and the CSAS Young Scientist Award;
  • Jayden MacPherson (Mike's student) for third place in the ADSA MSc oral presentation contest;
  • Sarah Pletts (also his student) for second in the ADSA undergraduate oral presentation contest;
  • Eoin O'Hara (Leluo Guan's student) for winning the CSAS PhD poster contest;
  • Ou Wang  (another of Leluo Guan's students) for second place in the CSAS PhD poster contest.
  • And to Leluo Guan for giving a marathon four invited talks. Rock-stars, all!

Tim McAllister was formally recognized with the 2016 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation at the inaugural Canadian Beef Industry Conference. McAllister is respected nationally and internationally for his work on antimicrobial resistance, beef cattle nutrition, silage science, greenhouse gas emissions, prion science and E. coli O157:H7 (with Gentec's Ou Wang, see publication here).

Violet Muringai (Ellen Goddard's student) won the Food Distribution Research Society's  2016 Richardson-Applebaum Award for Best PhD Dissertation. Her thesis focused on the role of trust in consumer behaviour in the meat sector, including concerns about animal diseases and shifting consumer preferences. One chapter used data from a project (including Livestock Gentec) comparing hog quality, meat quality and public responses to ‘traditionally raised’ vs conventional pork (funded through AI Bio). Results showed that people with high trust in farmers and the meat industry were more likely to buy certified traditionally raised pork than were people with lower trust. Public policy implications include the need for open and transparent production/processing practices to reduce costs associated with a lack of trust. 

Gentec's own Anna Szenthe received the Knights's Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary for her volunteer work as President of the Canadian Hungarian Heritage Council and Co-president of the Canadian Diaspora Council.


Report: Canadian Beef Industry Conference

Gentec student Nicky Lansink was pretty wowed by this conference. In her article, she tells how some sessions changed her approach to communicating research results to consumers and meeting their expectations.

Cut the beef to cut the carbon...

A new study proposes that consumers will have to cut beef consumption by half to meet Europe's climate goals. Read more here. (Thank goodness Alberta's kids aren't in Europe!)

...Or cut the emissions the cows produce

Alternatively, if we use only feed-efficient cows who burp less methane, eat less but still make just as much meat (read more about this here)--maybe we can have our beef and eat it, too.

Food fraud and the tech to beat it

Food fraud can be many things: from false country-of-origin labels to false expiry dates to product substitutions (remember the European horse-meat scandal?). Read The Globe and Mail's comprehensive--and very worrying--article on the scope of the problem and the tools (yes, genomics!!) to address it.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency are working to produce a low-cost, user-friendly tool to automate traceability testing in the livestock sector. That will, at least, take care of the product substitution end of fraud.

Other testing tools are on their way as well; this particular one to differentiate between non-GMO and GMO-free, which can't be ascertained with current technology.

The truth about hormones in beef

The Calgary Eyeopener wasn't quite sure what to make when Canadian Cattlemen's Association Issues Director, Tom Lynch-Staunton explained the negligible effect of residual hormones in beef. To be quite sure, it brought in John Kastelic of UCalgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for his opinion. Listen here to what he said about this and other issues.

McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef pilot

Results are in--it's a success. Producers overcame their initial suspiction of third-party verification, and embraced the process in order to improve their operations and cater to consumer demands for more information about their food sources. Read more here.

Canadian Cattle Genome Project still making waves

Although this Genome Canada-funded project is officially over, its impact continues--this time from a biobanking point of view. This article focuses on the how, why and importance of collecting data from the Canadian beef herd.

Events calendar

Ag minister supports beef genomics

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister, Lawrence MacAulay published a message in Canadian Meat Business in which he praises the vibrancy and importance of the livestock sector to the national economy--and gives a special nod to beef genomics in the process.

No joke in the colour of your yoke

North Americans traditionally like a lemony-looking yoke while Europeans like shades of orange. Dutch company DSM recently marketed a food additive that allows farmers to produce the colour of their choice among a palette of 15 yellows/oranges--independently of the hen's diet. And you won't believe what else they want to "colourize." Read more here.

Could such blatant manipulation be one of the reasons Canadian millenials don't trust the food system?

Food for thought

"The drive to lower prices--through such industrial processes as packaging, chemical preservatives, refrigeration, storage, and long-distance transport--not only removed much of the natural quality from food but also dehumanized an experience that lies close to the origins of human society. The growing popularity of farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, the slow food movement and a burgeoning literature... suggests that consumers crave a different experience of food shopping."

Tim Brown. Change by Design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Collins. 2009.

To provide some context, Brown states that, in societies where basic needs are met, consumers look for meaningful and emotionally satisfying services and experiences. Companies in all sectors are engaging the "experience economy" in the search for profit and sustainability. Others, such as Disney, are old hands already. The experience of going to DisneyWorld or watching cartoons with your kids or friends is timeless and memorable.

We share this quote as a reminder of what is driving food shoppers out of grocery stores (poor service, unstocked shelves, lack of trust, etc.) and as an inspiration that there is always a better way for the livestock industry to serve consumers.

The lighter (but true) side

John Oliver, host of "Last Week Tonight," summarizes what to look for in real science and the booby-traps in bogus science. Split your sides at the video or digest the short version here.

In a category we might rename The L-eye-ter Side, read here what scientists have decided is the best strategy to protect cows from lions in Africa.

23andMe keeps riding the wave

Using genetic data from its (consenting) clients, genetics company 23andMe has identified new loci for susceptibility to basal cell carcinoma. Over the summer, the company found similar locifor major depression. These findings will help researchers understand how the diseases develop, which could lead to new drugs and therapies. Read more here.
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