Communicating research results
By Mike McMorris, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There is a lot of research going on in Canada related to the big issues facing the livestock sector. This type of research needs to be highly focused which means that outcomes often are as well. Resulting news stories tend to use simple metrics, such as greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross product, which can be misleading. Livestock have very positive impacts on local economies, human nutrition and soil health, all of which are lost when only simple metrics are used. Fortunately, there is a growing, more balanced approach developing.
The Dublin Declaration is a recent initiative that “gives voice to the many scientists around the world who research diligently, honestly and successfully in the various disciplines in order to achieve a balanced view of the future of animal agriculture”. It now has over 1,000 signatures from around the world, and we should all hope to see that number rise.
The declaration notes that the livestock industry is challenged to provide nutrition for a growing population, but also to meet the needs of the estimated three billion people around the world currently suffering from malnutrition, a key point made recently by Dr. Vaugh Holder of Alltech that is often overlooked.
This needs to happen while at the same time dealing with challenges regarding biodiversity, climate change, nutrient flows and animal health and welfare within a One Health perspective. Clearly, livestock fit within a huge picture.
More recently, a series of nine papers has been written through a joint effort of the American Society of Animal Science and Oxford University. Published in Animal Frontiers, these deal with topics facing animal agriculture including: the societal role of meat; the role of meat in the human diet; meat and non-communicable diseases; ecosystem management using livestock; challenges for the balanced attribution of livestock’s environmental impact; cellular agriculture: current gaps between facts and claims; and challenges and opportunities for defining the role and value of meat in our global society and economy.
Canadian livestock sectors are becoming more proactive as well. Several have recently established targets regarding greenhouse gas emissions reduction. To meet these targets, industry will need to support increased research efforts as well as work to better get research into practice. Fortunately, in Ontario, we are well into a complete rebuild of the province’s livestock research facilities at Elora. Industry, government and the University of Guelph, which manages the facilities, must together attain maximum value from these world class centres.
The great research now and in the future will provide us more information to pass along to farmers and consumers. Pulling that into a cohesive story will be important. Such a story could have three chapters: economy, environment and food security. Each chapter would document the current state along with progress toward a defined target each having a specific date.
The economy chapter could include the contribution to Ontario’s GDP; number of jobs that are supported, both direct and indirect; number of new entrants by sector; effective business risk management; profitability; contribution to a circular economy using by-products, and disease avoidance and control, with particular attention to zoonoses.
Within the environment chapter could be greenhouse gas reductions based on a meaningful denominator, not simply gross product; industry adjustments made to adapt to climate change; level of antimicrobial use; water use and impact on water quality; impact on biodiversity; animal welfare; energy use and sources; and impact on soil health.
Food security could capture contribution to human nutritional needs; availability of Canadian product for Canadian consumers; and levels of exports that help to feed the world.
Having the outline of the story will help all parties (industry, government and researchers) to define gaps and research goals and help to define new ways for getting research into practice on farms as well as communicating research results more broadly.
This commentary by LRIC CEO Mike McMorris was published in the August 7, 2023 edition of Farmtario.