Responsible Innovation

Guest Post by Kelly Bronson

On November 24, 2015, 10 “experts” from around the world gathered to inform a vision for the Norwegian governance of agricultural biotechnologies under the rubric of responsible innovation. Among the attendees were Drs. Brian Wynne (Lancaster, retired) and Sir Erik Millstone (Sussex). The workshop was funded by the Research Council of Norway and was held in Tromso—an arctic environment described by craggy mountains and dark mid-day skies.

Within a responsible innovation approach, the stewardship of innovation includes what is called “upstream” reflection on the purposes of innovation. Said differently, responsible innovation is shaped according to early consideration about what the technology is intended to do (not only what it is hoped it will not do): What are the motivations behind the innovation? Who might benefit and who not? As you can see, responsible innovation is necessarily forward-looking; it aims not just to regulate “end products,” and thus hazards that appear after the introduction of innovations. Responsible innovation emphasizes the need for care and responsiveness among scientists and decision-makers (like regulators).

At the workshop we discussed how to execute a responsible innovation framework for agricultural biotechnology governance in Europe; Norway is in the midst of applying biotechnology to the aquaculture sector. Those of us from outside of Europe also discussed how responsible innovation might be applied to agricultural biotechnology governance in North America. Unfortunately, Canada missed the boat on inclusive reflection and public deliberation over the motivations behind the development of those agricultural biotechnologies, which have existed in our food system for several decades. The purpose behind innovations like RoundupReady canola was and still is quite simple: boost farm-level productivity and contribute to a competitive biotechnology industry and economically robust agri-food sector. But what if the goal driving investments in innovation in the later 20th century had been deliberated upon by a wide variety of farmers and other stakeholders? What if alternative goals—say, environmental sustainability, local community sustainability—had surfaced over productivist ones?

Arguably, pretty serious losses have resulted from a lack of institutionally embedded deliberation on agricultural governance goals, and not just environmental and social ones. In 2005, Monsanto was forced to shelve its RoundupReady wheat because they made assumptions of need for the technology among reduced-tillage farmers, who ultimately became RoundupReady wheat’s worst critics and prevented its swift regulatory approval.

There are other ways, however, in which the responsible innovation framework could still be applied in Canada. For instance, we could adopt a precautionary approach to risk assessment (like in Europe) instead of our current backward-facing strategy that focuses on the end products of biotechnology innovation and on impacts, as they arise. Responsible innovation is, after all, about creating a responsive or flexible governance system that leaves space open for alternatives. I remain open to an alternative agri-food future.

Dr. Kelly Bronson is the Acting Director of the Science and Technology Studies program at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB.

Field notes for social change: a conversation with Raj Patel

Upcoming Webinar
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
12-1pm EST

Join Community Food Centres Canada for a webinar that explores how social change actually happens. In this one hour webinar, Raj Patel—an award-winning writer, activist, and academic—will deliver lessons from the frontlines of the food justice movement. He has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world. His first book was Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller. CFCC’s Nick Saul will moderate the discussion.
This webinar interrogates the question: where does social transformation come from? We’ll explore successes and failures of various facets of the food movement in the global North and South, and we’ll unpack how different actors — individuals, organizations, businesses and governments — have championed change.

Register Here!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact

Climate Choices Canada: Economics and Policy

February 18-20, 2016

This two day event brings together scholars, policy experts, practitioners  and students to take stock of Canada’s existing climate policies and to discuss future policy options in light of an evolving political and policy landscape.

Join us for the Climate Choices Canada conferenceFebruary 18 to 20, 2016 at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Registration is free but tickets are going fast. Sign up at:

New Southern Ontario Food Hub Case Studies 2015

The first 7 food hub reports from Southern Ontario are now available! The team members who have worked on these case studies are Erin Nelson, Alison Blay-Palmer, Karen Landman, Elena Christy, Erin Pratley, Lori Stahlbrand and Cassie Wever. More reports from Southern Ontario will be coming soon, along with a regional summary of the exciting food hub developments in the area.

NEW  Food Hub Case Studies

Are food banks an effective response to addressing food insecurity and poverty?

Guest blog from Kathy Dobson

When food banks started in Canada as an emergency and temporary measure in response to the economic recession in the 80s, they were intended to provide relief from immediate hunger as an emergency food source, not address food insecurity or poverty. Yet these so-called ‘temporary’ food charity providers are on the increase in Canada.

A panel discussion surrounding issues of poverty and food insecurity, ‘From Hunger to Health’ was recently held in Ottawa, as part of the second annual Spur festival. The discussion explored some of the root causes – and potential solutions – to the 75,000 people in Ottawa who go hungry each day.

Panel member Dr. Elaine Power, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies at Queen’s University, said outright that Food banks aren’t working. “Only 20 to 30 percent of food insecure households ever go to food banks.” One of the problems with food banks, explained Power, is that they provide a comforting illusion of people not being hungry.

“Food banks show that we care,” said Power, “but they have never gone away, though they were never intended to be permanent.” The danger, said Power, is that food banks can give us a false sense of having dealt with the issue of hungry Canadians. “We forget about hunger because we think food banks are solving the problem.”

Moderator Karen Secord, manager of Parkdale Food Centre in Ottawa, said food banks are always going to be needed, though, including the 29 in Ottawa alone, until we finally solve the issue of poverty in Canada. “If people don’t have an income,” said Secord, “then the need for food banks is going to continue.”

However, not everyone on the panel seemed to recognize and acknowledge the full extent and real threat of going hungry in Canada.

Panelist Dr. Pierre Desrochers, an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto, claimed that poverty has not only decreased over the past few generations, he also suggested what he seemed to view as an obvious and simple solution to poverty in Canada.

“In my opinion the best anti-poverty issue is a job,” said Desrochers. “We should focus on programs of job creation and build from there.”

Despite some murmurs of surprise and disapproval from several members of the audience in response to Desrochers’s ‘best anti-poverty’ solution, he continued on, claiming that, “Humanity has done more to lift people out of poverty in the last generation than ever before,” and that it used to be “historically that it was the king and a few people who could afford a decent meal.” In addition to job creation, Desrochers also suggested lowering the price of food would make it more easily available to those in need.

Power received an enthusiastic round of applause when she countered with, “The issue for the millions of people in this country is not the price of food, it’s not having enough money.”

Kathy Dobson (left) in conversation with Elaine Power (right) and another attendee at the Hunger to Health event in Ottawa

Kathy Dobson (left) in conversation with Elaine Power (right) and another attendee at the Hunger to Health event in Ottawa

“There is dignity in being able to chose the food you eat and what to feed your family,” added panel member Kaitrin Doll, an anti-poverty community engagement worker at the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres.

In addition to dignity, regular access to nutritional food is also an important health issue. Powers said food insecurity is a leading cause of significantly increased health care costs as well. “The poorer you are, the shorter your life, the unhealthier you are. Poor people die sooner than wealthier people.”

Power said she has a dream for Canada.

“One where we value the common humanity of all and ensure that everyone has what they need to live a socially acceptable life,” said Power. “Right now we don’t have that.”


Kathy Dobson is a journalist, author, and a doctoral student in the Communication Studies program at Carleton University. You can learn more about her work at


Film Screening and Panel Discussion

November 18, 4:45-7pm, at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto

Antibiotics were first massed-produced in the 1940s and their ability to fight and kill bacteria revolutionized medicine and profoundly impacted everything from agriculture to war. After less than 80 years, however, these miracle drugs are failing. Resistant infections kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year and there are now dozens of so-called Superbugs each with its own challenges and costs. How did this happen? Using microscopic footage, harrowing personal stories, and expert insights RESISTANCE clarifies the problem of antibiotic resistance, how we got to this point, and what we can do to turn the tide.

The MSH/UHN Antimicrobial Stewardship Program is hosting a documentary screening and panel discussion around the movie Resistance, on November 18, 2015, as part of Antibiotic Awareness Week 2015. Read more or register

Hungry for Change

The final report of the year-long Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty sets out how a fairer food system can be built that works better for people on low incomes.

Drawing on public hearings, expert testimony and the insights of people with experience of managing poverty, the Commission has uncovered a crisis of food access for many households in the UK. There are multiple cases of parents – usually mothers  – going hungry to feed their children or having to prioritise calories over nutrients to afford their weekly food shop. Many people are feeling a deep sense of anxiety from the struggle to manage serious squeezes in household budgets that arises from the cost of living rising faster than income.

… from the preface by Geoff Tansey, Chair of the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty

We named this independent inquiry the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty in order to broaden the debate on the connection between these two issues in the UK. People on low incomes in the UK face a new struggle to acquire sufficient quantities and adequate qualities of food. Many people are caught between the pincers of rising food prices, household bills and housing costs on one side and stagnant incomes on the other. Something has to give for these families and the only thing to squeeze is spending on food.

Recent discussion of food and poverty has been too narrow, focusing on the growth of charitable food provision, such as food banks, and the role it plays in feeding hungry people. But charitable food provision is the tip of the iceberg – the links between food and poverty extend far beyond food banks. Critically, we need to recognise that food banks and charitable food providers are not solutions to household food insecurity, they are symptoms of society’s failure to ensure everybody is sustainably well-fed.

Read more

Download the full report [pdf]

Strong #EatThinkVote campaign points to need for Canadian Food Policy Council

… from The Hill Times online, Wed Nov. 4, 2015
By Peter Andrée

Food issues are cross-cutting and complex. Who better to deliberate on them than a council that brings together the best minds from the relevant levels of government, industry, and civil society? A food policy council would consist of stakeholders and representatives from all parts of the food system.
In the recent election campaign, we saw a new player exerting its political muscle on the Canadian food and agricultural scene. Food Secure Canada’s #EatThinkVote campaign brought to the fore the issues of poverty-related food insecurity, the obstacles facing new farmers, and the challenges in accessing safe and affordable food faced by northern indigenous communities. The campaign represents a growing alignment of actors who are connecting around issues across the policy silos of health, agriculture, trade, environment, and more.
Read more

The Future of Food is Local

By Julie Bourassa, CFICE Volunteer

Food sustainability and climate change are increasingly urgent and intertwined issues. From the way we produce and package our food, to how much we consume, our relationship with food is not sustainable. Melissa Johnston, a Master’s student in Trent University’s Sustainability Studies program and a Research Assistant with CFICE’s Community Environmental Sustainability hub, explores a powerful solution to these issues that can be found in our very own local farmer’s markets. Read more

Subscribe to read the latest monthly CFICE newsletter here

Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE), is an action research project aimed at strengthening Canadian communities by asking the question: How can community-campus partnerships be designed and implemented to maximize the value created for non-profit, community-based organizations? CFICE carries out project and research work in five areas: Poverty Reduction, Community Environmental Sustainability, Community Food Security, Knowledge Mobilization, and Violence Against Women. When it comes to community-campus relationships, we believe that together everyone achieves more.

November 2015: 30 Days of Food Systems Planning and Policy

… from Kimberley Hodgson​Chair, APA Food Systems Planning Interest Group ​

In November 2015, the American Planning Association (APA) will highlight and promote food systems planning and policy. In an effort to support this messaging campaign, the APA Food Systems Planning Interest Group (APA-FIG) will feature interviews with practicing planners, special blog posts, and more.

Please join the conversation! We welcome comments, images, and tweets, and encourage you to use #foodsystems when you post to various social media outlets in November. Check the APA-FIG website regularly, and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (@APA_FIG, @APA_Planning), and Instagram (@foodsystemsplanning).

  • Faces of Food Systems Planning – On Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, APA-FIG will post a new interview with food systems planning practitioners in the public, private, and non-governmental sectors.

  • Fridays – Each Friday, APA-FIG will pose a new question on Twitter or Facebook to planners and allied professionals across North America.

  • Special Blog Posts – The APA-FIG Research, Policy, and Communication & Outreach Working Groups will explore various food systems planning and policy topics.

  • Tuesdays at APA – On November 10th, Debra Tropp, a deputy director within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will discuss a recent effort to capture and quantify economic impacts of local food system investments.

  • Thanksgiving Week – During the week of Thanksgiving, APA-FIG will feature a special social media strategy to engage planners and allied professionals in a meaningful conversation about our food systems and Thanksgiving.