Efficiency (animals)

Introduction: Implementing Livestock Keepers' Rights in the Canadian context

Improve inventory and assessment of Animal Genetic Resources

Develop formal breed recovery programs

No patents on animals or genes

Support for heritage breed organizations

Link heritage breeds (and plants) to sustainable production protocols

Agroecological training for animal breeders

Placing restrictions on artificial insemination

Reducing concentration in the animal genetics sector

Restricting veterinary product approvals and genetic engineering in the field of animal genetics

 

Introduction: Implementing Livestock Keepers' Rights in the Canadian context

Inspired originally by Farmers' Rights to plant genetic resources, the rights of farmer breeders have been significantly under-represented when it comes to receiving the credit for and benefits of breeding work.  According to the IUCN, there are a bundle of rights to be recognized:

  • "Recognition of livestock keepers as creators of breeds and custodians of Animal Genetic Resources;
  • Recognition of the dependency of the sustainable use of traditional breeds on the conservation of their respective ecosystems;
  • Recognition of traditional breeds as collective property, products of indigenous knowledge and cultural expression;
  • The right of the livestock keepers to make breeding decisions;
  • Right of livestock keepers to participate in policy making processes on Animal Genetic Resources issues;
  • Support for training and capacity-building of livestock keepers and provision of services along the food chain."

Some aspects of these rights are addressed under Goal 4 regarding approval regimes for veterinary products that facilitate industrial animal production systems and farm designs that facilitate animal welfare, and Goal 5 Sustainable Food. The change proposals that follow are also designed to bring Canada in line with these rights.

Improve inventory and assessment of Animal Genetic Resources

The Global Plan of Action for AnGR (Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2007) called for greater characterization of the current situation and risks.  The Canadian government has been weak in this regard, failing to contribute a report to the second FAO (2015) world inventory and relying on NGOs to maintain a list of vulnerable breeds. It has also failed to assess the risk associated with the dominant approaches to breeding,  artificial insemination, production, marketing and dietary guidelines (see Get Started, Problems). As well, Canada, effectively, has no early warning system for animal genetic diversity loss.  This is part of disturbing pattern of government inconsistent involvement in international processes related to the food system (outside of food safety and trade), with similar failures occurring with international agreements on  food security (Koc and Bas, 2012) and food rights (Rideout et al., 2007).  Such failures essentially mean that the federal government is not actually committed to meeting the international commitments it has signed on to.

If the federal government is unwilling to undertake this work, at a minimum it should provide adequate funding to NGOs willing and able to do so (see below), and use those NGO assessments in international reporting.  Also consistent with the Global Plan of Action, data should be gathered and collated according to international templates that allow for comparison and aggregation. Canada could mirror the monitoring approaches undertaken by the European Farm Animal Biodiversity Information System. Finally, an early warning infrastructure should be assembled as per recommendations in the FAO's (2015) Second World Assessment (p. 416-419).

Develop formal breed recovery programs

Just as Fisheries and Oceans Canada develops fish stock recovery plans (see Goal 5, Sustainable fishery management), and consistent with the FAO (2015) Second World Assessment report,  so too should AAFC develop breed recovery plans. with in-situ and ex-situ dimensions and also strategic interventions to reduce the negative impacts of conventional animal agriculture on genetic diversity.  This has already partially happened somewhat haphazardly, but successfully, with Lacombe pigs, Canadienne cattle and Chantecler chickens, but the lessons from those processes should be applied and a more formalized multistakeholder process implemented to better identify at risk breeds and to act on critically vulnerable ones. This likely requires a national multistakeholder committee, perhaps modeled on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), with both early warning and action plan mandates.  AAFC should be the lead facilitator, but in some cases breed associations might be operational leads, in other cases NGOs working on breed conservation.  Funding can be from multiple sources, but AAFC likely needs to establish a policy and funding envelope for both the committee and the mandated action plans that result.

No patents on animals or genes

See also Goal 4, Genetic engineering.  Because the Patent Act itself is unclear on these questions, the Supreme Court, based on a limited number of cases, has determined that plant and animal cells with unique traits are patentable, but not the plant and animal themselves. In Canada, there is no animal equivalent to Plant Breeders' Rights legislation (PBR) that gives certain protections to breeders in the absence of patent protection (see Seeds and Plants).  Also significant is that traditional plant varieties and animal breeds are not patentable, and their cells  are not likely patentable either since they are hard to categorize as unique, one of the criteria for patentability. There are also difficulties for animal cells with the requirements to deposit an invention, given that it is living material that only stores under specific conditions. How the law relates to marker assisted breeding is unclear, see Goal 4

The argument for patenting is innovation, but the larger questions is what innovation for what purpose? It's clear that many patents don't necessarily lead to improvements in social welfare, in fact in the food system arena do the opposite, generating significant provide benefits with significant public costs.  Given that IP  primarily benefits the private sector, public funding for public purposes is an alternative to  (Siebrasse, 2010).

Given that the courts have interpreted the Patent Act in this way, it will take changes to the Act to provide new direction to the Courts.  In the current Act, section 27(8), What may not be patented, provides for one exclusion, "... for any mere scientific principle or abstract theorem."  A second exclusion should be added to the effect that plant and animal cells can not be patented.  More public funding for innovation with public purpose can be partial compensation for any losses the private sector might experience but it is obvious that the private sector is not capable of protecting genetic diversity.  This exclusion would appear to be consistent with the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of International Property (TRIPs) Article 27.3(b) on permitted exclusions so would not be a violation of Canada's trade obligations.

Support for heritage breed organizations

As with heritage seed organizations, if governments are relying on such organizations to support in-situ conservation work, then they have to do a better job of supporting these organizations financially. Right now, much support comes from private foundations, membership dues, and individual donations, a notoriously unreliable long term strategy, especially private foundations who typically allocate dollars on a limited term project basis. Leaders of these heritage breed organizations have to spend much of their time fundraising and allocating scarce resources to keep initiatives alive. To create stability, governments should provide at least 30% of their annual core operating budgets on a 5-year rolling basis. Support for specific projects can be on top of that.

Link heritage breeds (and plants) to sustainable production protocols

Given that heritage breeds and varieties can be elements of sustainable production, they should be added to production protocols as a sustainable practice implemented on farm. This is already happening to a significant degree under organic production protocols for farms with heritage varieties, but is less well developed for heritage breeds. Heritage breeds and plants can then be part of marketing programs for whatever sustainable label contains the protocol (see Goal 5, Sustainable Food, Efficiency).

Agroecological training for animal breeders

There is an urgent need for university training in animal breeding to include agroecological education and participatory research.  Agroecology remains on the margins of academic breeding programs in Canada.  Some graduate programs include a course on sustainable agriculture, but this material is not integrated with the core aspects of breeding in the foundational courses.  This weakness in agricultural training is not unique to the animal breeding programs and reflects ongoing and deep-seated paradigmatic disputes within the agricultural sciences about which scientific approaches bring the most explanation to the problems and solutions of the food system (see MacRae et al., 1989; and Goal 3 Public Research).

Part of the difficulty also rests with the main  commodity and supply management organizations that have significant influence on breeding objectives and the financing of breeding projects (see Substitution).  Their shallow understanding of sustainable production and diets is reflected in these programs, problematic given the shift to sustainable diets (see Goal 2, Demand Supply Coordination, Substitution).

All foundation courses should have a substantial module on agroecological and sustainability considerations. Many of the key issues to be addressed in courses are discussed in 2 review articles  by Phocas et al. (2016a,b). Creating a uniform approach would likely require involvement of the Association of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, which claims to be advancing sustainability. Additional strategies to address these challenges are outlined in Goal 3 Public Research, Efficiency.

Placing restrictions on artificial insemination

For many agriculture inputs, the rate and conditions of use are regulated.  This is particularly the case for pesticides, animal hormones and antibiotics, all of which have negative consequences when over- or incorrectly used.  For example, when a pesticide is approved, the pesticide label provides information on timing, frequency, and under what atmospheric and spatial conditions the product can be applied.  These restrictions reduce the likelihood of negative impacts on other organisms.

The evidence continues to mount that AI is contributing to reductions in genetic diversity because of the tight focus on a limited number of sires and traits. AI firms on their own will not redress this problem as it runs counter to their business model and profitability.  The federal government, through the Health of Animals regulations, will have to impose restrictions on how many units from any one sire can be sold, and how many units from the same sire can be sold to any individual farm operation. The regulations require that semen production centres have a permit from the Minister and the restrictions on semen dispersal can be attached to the issuance of the permit and the facilities monitored by inspectors  authorized under the regulations. The design of such restrictions is, however, complicated and requires expert knowledge on animal genetics, so at this stage, the federal government should establish an expert panel to suggest options.

Reducing concentration in the animal genetics sector

Originally populated with a diverse array of SMEs, corporate concentration has been on the rise in the global animal genetics sector and has been in the spotlight since the mid 2000s (Gura, 2007).  There are significant pressures to vertical integration, from genetics to production which favours large firms. Problems are more acute in poultry than livestock.  Internationally, Canada is a dominant player in cattle and turkey genetics.  Canadian farmers have retained significant ownership in this sector but given what's happening with other animals, vigilance is required.  See Goal 3, Reducing Corporate Concentration, Efficiency and Substitution for proposals on how to strengthen the Competition Act and reduce concentration.

Restricting veterinary product approvals and genetic engineering in the field of animal genetics

Many veterinary product approvals are contributing to the intensification of production and the focus on high performance genetics.  Similarly, most genetic engineering interventions are designed to enhance a narrow range of performance traits.  For proposals on how to reduce their negative impacts, see Goal 4.