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Tag: food & Agro Processing

Government of Canada supports Alberta agri-food sector with investment in BioNeutra

Federal investment of $2.94 million will double BioNeutra’s manufacturing capacity, enabling this growing firm to capitalize on global consumer demands and better compete in global markets.

Canadians have long demonstrated the determination and ingenuity needed to lead the development of innovative technologies and processes that advance the agriculture industry. The agriculture and agri-foods sectors are of vital importance to the Canadian economy, providing opportunities for value-added food and food ingredient manufacturing that support high-quality jobs for Canadians.

Today, the Honourable Jim Carr, Special Representative for the Prairies, on behalf of the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), announced a federal investment of $2,942,050 for Edmonton-based BioNeutra to further grow its product line of organic plant-based food ingredients for the global market.

WD funding will enable BioNeutra to acquire equipment needed to double its manufacturing capacity and move its bottling processes from a foreign supplier to the company’s Alberta facility. The federal investment will help to better position BioNeutra to expand globally, creating quality jobs for Albertans, and building on Canada’s reputation as a leader in the agri-food sector. Over the next four years, the project is expected to result in more than 20 high-value jobs.

BioNeutra focuses on converting starch molecules to healthier food ingredients without chemical modification. The company’s Alberta location is the only North American facility manufacturing a type of healthy food ingredient made from plant starch. This process enables BioNeutra to produce its VitaFiber line of products—a naturally sweet, low calorie, and high fiber alternative to sugar. The VitaFiber line of natural and organic food products are sold to consumers and to food manufacturers looking to use healthier alternatives to sugar in their products.


“The demand for healthy, organic plant-based foods is growing exponentially around the world, and Alberta is well-positioned to capitalize on this opportunity thanks to its strong agricultural sector. With today’s investment, the Government of Canada is supporting an Alberta company, helping to create jobs, and working to further strengthen Canada’s agriculture industry.”

– The Honourable Jim Carr, Special Representative for the Prairies

“The agri-food industry presents enormous potential for diversifying Alberta’s economy, and our government is committed to ensuring that companies operating in this sector can continue to create good jobs for Canadians while supporting our economic recovery.”

– The Honorable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada 

“We are thrilled with the customer response to our sustainable, pea-based VitaFiber. We know that our customers are looking for smarter nutrition through sugar reduction and increased fiber. Through the partnership with Western Economic Diversification Canada, BioNeutra is accelerating the expansion of our facility to meet the expected demand for our ingredients both here in Canada and around the world.”

– Dr. Jianhua Zhu, President and CEO, BioNeutra Global Corporation

Quick facts

  • An interest free and repayable investment of more than $2.94 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) will double BioNeutra’s manufacturing capacity, enabling the company to meet growing consumer demands for its organic plant-based food ingredients—both nationally and internationally.
  • Founded in 2003 and based in Edmonton, BioNeutra is one of Canada’s fastest growing companies. It is a supplier of high-quality fiber ingredients and products that contribute to advanced human nutrition and wellness in functional and healthy foods. BioNeutra focuses on providing consistent, quality ingredients for formulators and manufacturers.
  • WD’s Business Scale-up and Productivity (BSP) program supports high-growth businesses that are scaling up and producing innovative goods, services, or technologies. It offers interest free, repayable funding to incorporated businesses.

Unleashing the global potential of cellular agriculture

Future Fields co-founders Matthew Anderson-Baron, Jalene Anderson-Baron and Lejjy Gafour

From punk rock to bio-punk

When friends Lejjy Gafour, Matthew Anderson-Baron and Jalene Anderson-Baron first founded Future Fields they were focused on the goal of producing lab grown meat through a process known as cellular agriculture. Concerned about the environmental impact of traditional agriculture, and with a view to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges around food security, the friends believed that cellular agriculture could provide the solutions.

“We met hanging out in the punk scene in Edmonton,” said Lejjy Gafour, CEO of Future Fields. “We like to say we went from punk rock to bio-punk. We all have really diverse backgrounds – that’s been one of our strengths. Because we were focused on doing something completely new, we’ve looked to many different sectors including biotechnology, software and design, systems design and social sciences to build a path forward.”

Addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges

Feeding a growing population, addressing climate change, and mitigating the threat of antibiotic resistant and zoonotic diseases are some of the biggest challenges we are facing as a planet. It’s clear that the food industry as we currently know it, will not be able to meet the demand for animal-derived food products by 2050. As climate change accelerates and we experience the spread of these diseases, the industry is in need of positive change. Lejjy, Matthew and Jalene wanted to be a part of the solution.

What they soon discovered was that one of the biggest challenges cellular agriculture faced was around the commercialization of the technology – specifically it’s scalability. Cultured meat was expensive to produce, making it inaccessible to most of the population.

“Right now, there’s a restaurant in Singapore that actually serves lab grown chicken,” said Lejjy Gafour, co-founder and CEO of Future Fields. “This technology is real, but the cost of growth media is still a key hurdle to mass commercialization of cellular agriculture – we have the key to solving that problem.”

“For me, tackling food insecurity is incredibly important and it’s not an abstract concept at all,” said Lejjy. “Growing up, I personally experienced what is politely called food insecurity. I can remember very clearly what it was like to not know where my next meal was coming from – and what that felt like.”

A bold mission

This personal connection to the company’s mission is probably why Future Fields’ ambitions have grown far beyond bringing lab-grown chicken nuggets to market. They aren’t interested in launching an expensive and inaccessible consumer product just to have something on the market. Instead, their team is playing the long game and have developed the underlying technology that meat developers need to produce lab-grown meat on par with the cost of traditional meat. Their mission is a bold one – to unleash the full potential of cellular agriculture – and they’ve recently taken a big step forward in accomplishing that goal.

Just last month they shipped their first round of cellular growth medium to customers to be used to produce lab grown meat.  Cellular growth medium is the most important ingredient needed in cellular agriculture and up until now, the solutions have been incredibly expensive, making it impossible for companies in this sector to scale. But Future Fields’ growth medium is significantly cheaper to produce – up to 10,000x less expensive than what is currently available – allowing businesses to create lab grown meat that is nearly on par with the cost of traditional meat.

“This is a critical step forward in the rapid commercialization of this industry. By solving one of its biggest challenges – providing affordable, high quality, customized growth media, this material will allow our customers to create price parity products at scale,” said Lejjy. “We made the decision earlier on to put all of our efforts behind accelerating the growth of the entire cellular agriculture industry by focussing on developing a growth medium that was exponentially cheaper. By removing the cost to scale from the perspective of growth media, we see huge potential for this sector to take off and grow exponentially.”

This is an important milestone for the company, and for the cellular agriculture industry as a whole, as it represents a hurdle that was previously unsolved. According to Lejjy, Future Fields expects to see products incorporating their growth factor entering the retail market within the next 2 years.

“One of the other exciting things we are seeing is an expansion of the scope of this technology,” said Lejjy. “We have customers who are using our products to work on solutions for milks, and then there are also applications for producing materials like leather or other materials that were traditionally harvested from animals.”

A huge opportunity

For investors, the potential market size of cellular agriculture and alternative protein products can’t be overstated. The current animal products market was estimated to be worth $2.17 trillion in 2018 with human food accounting for 85% of this market. The alternative meat market is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $140 billion in ten years. You don’t need to be overly optimistic to see the potential for the alternative protein market.

Aside from completing their first shipment to clients, it’s been a busy couple of months for Future Fields. Just last week they pitched as a finalist in the Innovative Worlds category at the SXSW Pitch competition – Future Fields was selected as one of 40 finalists across 8 categories from all over the world. And they recently landed $2.2 million in seed funding.

The Edmonton region advantage

“We have plans to expand our team and build up our production capacity right here in the Edmonton region, to match the massive demand we are seeing from our customers. As we continue to ship products to customers, we know we will need to produce growth medium at a much larger scale for the commercial market,” said Lejjy. “There’s a bit of a global race going on right now around who’s going to solve the commercialization issue first. We’re really playing the role of technology enabler for the industry and this is a great place for us to grow. We have access to incredible talent out of the post-secondary institutions here, and manufacturing facilities are affordable for a startup like ourselves.”

Lejjy points out that the opportunity for this industry is massive and it is still very early.

“We really see ourselves as the path to unleashing the full potential of cellular agriculture and we want people to join us. We believe that there is incredible opportunity to build a hub for cellular agriculture in Alberta and in the Edmonton region,” said Lejjy. Long-term, we plan to keep our headquarters in the Edmonton region with satellite production facilities to support the international demand we are seeing for our products. Within the Edmonton region we have the inputs and the talent. And there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in the biotechnology sector. Agriculture has a rich history here and we can be at the forefront of the evolution of this industry. It can be done here – and the proof is that we are already doing it.”

Learn more about technology and innovation in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

Business incubator expands

An Alberta facility that helps establish and expand agri-food businesses will itself be expanding thanks to $24 million from the provincial government.

The Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator in Leduc will be able to provide more space for people to develop products without having to risk building their own manufacturing facilities, said director of operations Dan Graham.

“It’s a gamble to invest in bricks and mortar,” he said.

“When you only have small volumes, you have to have a lot of confidence in your product, and this facility helps them absorb some of the risk.”

The provincial funding will pay for a 25,000 sq. foot expansion of the business incubator, including three additional suites of about 5,000 sq. feet each. The project adds to seven suites within the existing 75,000 sq. foot facility, he added.

Suites are rented to people or companies, providing spaces for them to bring their own equipment to conduct food processing. The incubator is managed by Alberta Agriculture’s food and bio processing branch.

“The purpose of the incubator is to assist start-up companies to establish a market presence, provide serviced facilities to develop and refine production techniques, share experiences with other entrepreneurs and take advantage of economies from sharing services and facilities.”

Thirteen companies have entered into agreements with the incubator since it opened in 2007, said Graham in an email.

“We estimate that those companies have invested over $60 million as a direct result of their time at the (incubator).”

The money for the expansion is part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan, which aims to create 90,000 jobs by spending $20.7 billion on infrastructure projects under the provincial government’s 2021-24 Capital Plan. Of that amount, $825 million will be for new projects during the next three years, said a provincial statement.

“After a year of unprecedented hardship, Alberta’s economy is showing signs of recovery, and Alberta’s government will be there to support that recovery with major investments in new projects that build the architecture of Alberta’s future economy,” said Premier Jason Kenney in the statement.

Besides helping spark new businesses, the incubator aims to attract established companies to Alberta.

“We’ve had feedback from people both from outside Alberta, but in Canada, and people from other parts of the world that have told us things like, we have a world-class facility,” said Graham in an interview.

As a multi-tenant facility that is operated as a not-for-profit business, the incubator meets federal food regulations. It is inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, allowing resident companies to market products such as meat internationally as well as nationally, he added.

Graham said Alberta has the proven potential to develop new businesses and industries from the agriculture sector.

“We’ve graduated companies through here that have gone on to set up their own facilities in the province and expanded their business, so I’m confident that the prospect is very good for companies coming here.”

Learn more about the food and agriculture sector in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

Token Bitters is scaling up and building international export opportunities

Token Naturals is a cannabis company located in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, focused on extraction and derivative products 

When Keenan Pascal and Jamie Shtay decided to found Token Naturals, a cannabis company focused on extraction and derivative products, they never imagined that they would also become the Edmonton Region’s first local bitters company. They certainly didn’t expect to have a reach that extends beyond the region both nationally and internationally and into markets as far off as Japan. However, that is exactly what they did.   

Initially, the pair was focused on developing their patented extraction process with help from the vast array of talent available from the oil and gas industry that exists in the Edmonton region. Once this was complete, the Token Naturals team found themselves in a bit of a holding period as they moved through the process of licensing phases to sell legal cannabis products with Health Canada. 

A new concept is born 

Keenan and Jamie already had strong ties to the restaurant and bar community in the region and with another founder’s background in chemical engineering and molecular science, an idea was hatched to develop a line of bitters from locally sourced ingredients and the concept behind Token Bitters was born.  

“The process for extraction to produce bitters is essentially the same as the technology we developed for our cannabis extraction business,” said Token Naturals CEO, Keenan Pascal. “We thought this would be a good way to test out and practice our process.” 

What began as a pet project, immediately garnered a positive response within the local region and in just 4 years Token Bitters has resulted in a product that is sold nationally across Canada, exported to Japan, at the precipice of export to Mexico and Europe and has a view to further expansion in international markets. 

Extending the reach of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region 

Each of Token Bitters products is named after beloved Edmonton landmarks. Strathcona Orange is named after the beloved historic neighbourhood, and Whyte Lavender takes its name from the location of co-founder Pascal’s first bartending job. 

Exporting these products is also sharing the stories of this region across the globe.  

Despite the success found in their bitters line, the Token team has not lost sight of the vision for their cannabis extraction business. 

Banking on the Edmonton Metropolitan Region for success 

Co-founder and CEO of Token Naturals, Keenan Pascal is an enthusiastic advocate for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region and what it has to offer. 

“The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has everything we need to build success for our organization,” says Pascal. “Here, we have access to a skilled, young, and eager workforce with plentiful experience in agriculture, manufacturing, and processing. The provincial and municipal governments in the region have traditionally included some of the most proactive and pro-business attitudes. For us, this has been the perfect culmination of the forces required to lead an industry. It’s my opinion that this is the best city to live in and the best city to work in.” 

The idea behind Token Naturals began in Vancouver, but when it came time to decide where the new organization would choose to invest, the founders decided that the Edmonton Metropolitan Region had what they needed to find success. 

Currently, Token Naturals is a late-stage Licensed Producer applicant with Health Canada. The organization recently began construction of an extraction facility that will have the capacity to process 65,000 kg of cannabis flower each year into extracted and derivative products like oils and edibles. The facility is set to open in August 2020. The completion of the refinery facility will allow Token to move forward with their Licensed Producer application from Conditional Approval to a Standard Processor license. 

“We wouldn’t be about to round this corner if not for the supportive environment that exists in the Edmonton region as well as the forward-thinking policies of the provincial and municipal governing bodies,” says Pascal. 

Haskap berries: northern Alberta’s new superfood

Haskap berries Photo credit: Sara Jewell Photography

Growing new markets for Canada’s fruit industry

When you bite into a haskap berry and break through the purple-blue skin, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. The tangy tartness cuts through the sweet juice to overwhelm your tastebuds, and before you know it you’re devouring handful after handful. 

Andrew Rosychuk describes haskap berries as “three-quarters blueberry, one-quarter raspberry, with undertones of black currant and elderberry.”

But haskap’s are better, because there’s three times the antioxidants and five times the anti-inflammatories than in a blueberry, he says. 

The global blueberry market is projected to reach $4.5 billion U.S. by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 6.7% according to Mordor Intelligence LLP. That growth is largely driven by increased demand in Asia and Europe where the desire for fresh and healthy berries is increasing faster than production. 

Even with a small initial market share, the potential for haskap berries is substantial.

Andrew Rosychuk. Photo credit: Sara Jewell Photography

A common goal

Rosychuk owns Rosy Farms, a haskap orchard in Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s Sturgeon County. It’s an area with rich farmland, predictable weather, and easy access to global food supply chains.

Rosychuk’s passion for horticulture began as a child, scribbling down notes as he watched Canadian Gardener. That curiosity stuck with him and in 2005 he began planting on his aunt and uncle’s farm just outside Willingdon, Alberta. 

“I planted sour cherries, currants and haskaps as an experiment. I found out that the bugs love the currents, the cherries got eaten by the deer, and I fell in love with the haskaps,” Rosychuk says. 

Rosychuk, who’s spent over ten years working in the trades, bought the 76 acres of land that make up Rosy Farms in 2015. Now he has 26,000 haskap bushes growing there. 

The Alberta-based entrepreneur knew that in order to make the haskap berry industry successful in Canada, farmers would have to work together towards one common goal. 

So he founded the Haskap Alberta Association and also teamed up with 13 other producers to help create North 49 Fruit Corporation, a producer-owned marketing and sales company.

“North 49 is a one of a kind business because it is 100% farmer owned and farmer driven,” says Rosychuk. 

All of the shareholders are aligned, so they have the same caliber of berries, food safety processes and quality assurance processes. 

The Haskap Alberta Association also contributes towards building that unified voice for haskaps, which Rosychuk says is important to educate new growers and gain respect from the government. 

‘Extremely viable’ 

Looking forward, Rosychuk wants to transform the fruit industry in Canada and build long-term relationships around the world for haskap farming stability.

“We’ve never had any industry like this in the prairies before, it’s always been annual agriculture. This is an opportunity to do something different and it is extremely viable,” he says. 

“It’s a blank slate, but it’s not just a blank slate where everything has to start from scratch — it’s a better blueberry.”

Rosychuk says the next step for the industry is to establish the distribution and processing systems that are needed to support haskap production in Alberta.  

Luckily, the Edmonton region has expertise and a competitive advantage in shipping fresh fruits to Asia

A large percentage of Western Canada and northwestern U.S. cherries ship to Asia through the Edmonton International Airport. That’s due to the combination of quick flying times to Asia, regular food-focused cargo routes, and expertise in handling fresh fruits, produce, meats, and other temperature and time sensitive products. 

Rosychuk plans to build a processing facility at Rosy Farms this fall which will be scalable. 

That’s his focus as a 2020 Nuffield Scholar, an award that recognizes agricultural leaders around the world. 

Rosychuk will be exploring the “value in developing on-farm, medium scale processing units giving the primary producer an advantage in capitalizing a value added ingredient or product,” according to the Nuffield Canada website. 

Photo credit: Sara Jewell Photography

In addition to building the new facility, Rosychuk expects to process enough haskap berries in 2020 to break-even, five years after beginning his operation at Rosy Farms. 

“When it comes to unique scalability, it’s the power of the haskap and it’s 100% local,” Rosychuk says. 

Over the winter, haskaps can endure up to minus 50 degrees celsius. The bushes will flower in May, facing downwards to prevent water from collecting and freezing during the chilly spring nights. 

By July, they’ll be ready to be harvested. 

Until then, Rosychuk will continue to build up the industry by sharing the story of the resilient haskap berry, the north’s newest superfood.

Greg Zeschuk – a modern renaissance man

It’s mid-morning on a Tuesday and Ritchie Market at 76 Avenue and 95 Street is bustling. People are lined up to order pour-overs from the coffee bar. The bakery does a brisk business in pastries. Butchers break down fresh meat. A pleasant din rises from tables in a central open area and the adjoining restaurant, Biera.

Greg Zeschuk owns the market, Biera and Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company, the market’s anchor. As he arrives, sporting jeans, a t-shirt and a salt-and-pepper beard, several people greet him by name. 

“I don’t come in and feel excessive pride or anything. I just kinda go, ‘OK great, it’s busy, back to work.’ I kind of have a relentless pursuit for the next thing,” Zeschuk says.

His modest demeanour belies a sensational career: Zeschuk is the co-founder of famed video game company BioWare, and is a retired family doctor with a medical degree from the University of Alberta. In 2018, Zeschuk was named a member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s top civilian honour.

His foray into brewing began with The Beer Diaries, a YouTube show he hosted while living between Edmonton and Austin, and running Bioware’s Texas studio.

“I’d met a lot of the brewers and entrepreneurs that were making beer, and I really fell in love with the concept of it. It was a very creative and dynamic field.” 

By 2007, Zeschuk and co-founder Ray Muzyka had sold Bioware to Electronic Arts (EA), one of the world’s largest video game companies. They both exited BioWare in 2012 and remain in Edmonton.

“I thought, if I’m staying, I’m going to do something fun,” he says. He knew he wanted to build something, and was intrigued by small, neighbourhood breweries he’d seen in Denver and elsewhere, and by the piazzas of Italy.

Ritchie Market came together in a “complex, organic manner,” Zeschuk says. Local, independent businesses heard what he was doing and signed on. It opened in spring 2017.

On this Tuesday morning, Zeschuk is still pumped from the recent launch of Blind Enthusiasm’s latest beer, Measure of Patience. Around 200 people lined up to sample the offering – a barrel-fermented sour beer nearly five years in the making. It spent a year in Sicilian Marsala barrels and six months in the bottle prior to its release.

“It comes out as a more acidic, more wine-like beer. It’s a rare thing, and what’s different for us is, it’s our primary thing, all these unique barrel-aged, barrel-fermented beers,” says Zeschuk.

“The idea of having high-end food with really fine beer is in a handful of places across North America. We’re doing stuff that you would typically find in Toronto, or Chicago, or New York. It shows what you can do here.”

Despite Zeschuk’s technical background, Blind Enthusiasm is an artisanal endeavour.

“There are automation systems that can make 100 times the amount of beer we make in a year in one day, and never touch any ingredients, but that defeats the purpose from our perspective.”

As an example, he points to the Measure of Patience label. “This cutout doesn’t come out right all the time, so sometimes we manually take it off with a razor and place it on again. Stuff like that, which is not good from a business perspective, but it’s part of the love of the process.”

The success of the brewery and the market are intertwined. Zeschuk’s creative streak has tapped into a community ethos hungry for public space to embrace collectivism, and beat back isolationism.   

He’s noticed more regular customers – young and old – and a spinoff effect in the neighbourhood that he hopes will expand to other parts of the city.

“At least a couple hundred people showed up to get this beer on a Sunday in Edmonton. That wouldn’t have happened five years ago. It kind of makes you realize hey, there’s great potential.”

Beyond a fad: Meat and dairy rush to be part of plant-based food movement

A plant-based juggernaut is shaking up the North American food industry, and even conventional meat and dairy companies are making significant bets on the future of veggie-based eating.

Products from Beyond Meat Inc., a vegan burger maker, on sale at a market in Encinitas, Calif., on June 5, 2019. REUTERS

A wide range of agricultural and food industry leaders were in Calgary this week for a three-day international conference on the future of plant-based foods and plant protein ingredients. Organized by the Dutch networking company Bridge2Food, the conference — held in Canada for the first time in its 13-year history — focuses on consumer trends and opportunities for businesses as the demand for plant-based products increases around the world.

In session after session, conference attendees were told by retailers, restaurant owners and food processors that plant-based eating is no longer a fad, and that the growing portion of consumers who say they want to reduce meat consumption or eliminate it entirely is a market that can no longer be ignored.

“We are going through a very transformative time in the food industry,” said Jeremy Oxley, vice-president of marketing with Danone Canada. “As a leader in the food industry, we need to recognize that not only is this a world we need to play in, we want to play in it.”

Danone Canada’s parent company — the French multinational food company Danone — is best known for its traditional dairy-based yogurt brands. But in 2017, the company acquired non-dairy company WhiteWave Foods in a more than $10-billion deal, giving Danone ownership of plant-based brands such as Silk soy beverages and So Delicious Dairy Free frozen desserts.

While Danone’s non-dairy product line is small compared to its conventional dairy products, Oxley said a lot of the company’s growth will come from the plant-based side.

That message was echoed by Rory McAlpine, senior vice-president of government and industry relations with Maple Leaf Foods. The iconic Canadian company is best known for cold cuts and sausages, but in 2017 it acquired two established plant-based brands — Lightlife and Field Roast — and in 2018 opened a new division, Greenleaf Foods in Chicago, to oversee them.

In April, Maple Leaf announced it will spend US$310 million to build a 230,000-square-foot plant-based processing plant in Indiana. The new plant — which the company says will be the largest of its kind in North America — will double Maple Leaf’s capacity to make meat alternatives.

In fact, McAlpine said Maple Leaf no longer even refers to itself as a “meat company,” preferring to be called a “protein company.” He said some analysts are projecting a 7.5 per cent annual growth rate globally between 2016 and 2022 for the meat substitutes market.

“The meat industry is certainly large and it’s not shrinking in the sense of the global demand. The per capita consumption, as countries become wealthier in Asia and the developing world, is just increasing steadily the demand for meat protein,” McAlpine said. “But in terms of North American consumption, absolutely it’s soft. The growth opportunities (for meat), certainly in North America, are very limited.”


According to a study by the University of Dalhousie, 6.4 million Canadians are already following a diet that restricts meat at least partially. The new Canada Food Guide, released in January, urges Canadians to adopt more plant-based sources of protein while a report in the medical journal The Lancet said a global reduction in meat consumption will be necessary by 2050 for environmental and food security reasons.

California-based Beyond Meat, the company that uses pea protein to make the meatless burger patties that have been a runaway success story for A&W Canada, has seen its stock shoot up nearly 300 per cent since going public last month. The company is now valued at more than $6 billion.

But while there is a great deal of excitement in some agriculture circles around the plant-based food sector, the industry group that represents Alberta’s most iconic agricultural export — beef — is calling for balance.

Jill Harvie, public and stakeholder engagement manager with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said consumers sometimes assume that if something is a plant, it’s automatically “better.” But she said beef has a number of positive selling points, including its high protein content and the fact that cattle production on the Prairies helps to conserve native grasslands and the wildlife that live there.

“When it comes to growth in agriculture, that’s a great thing,” Harvie said. “But I think it’s important to keep that focus that we need both. Not only for our diets but for our environment as well.”

Alberta could be plant-based powerhouse; funding available for companies to grow sector

Alberta could become a global leader in the growing plant-based food sector, but must first transition from being an exporter of raw commodities into a value-added producer.

Storm clouds gather over a field of canola near Queenstown, Alta., on July 1, 2018. MIKE DREW/POSTMEDIA

That was one of the messages Tuesday as industry leaders gathered in Calgary for a three-day international conference on the future of food, and the world of plant-based foods and plant protein ingredients. Organized by the Dutch networking company Bridge2Food, the summit — held in Canada for the first time in its 13-year history — focuses on consumer trends and opportunities for businesses as the demand for plant-based products increases around the world.

Western Canada has 28 million acres of arable land and harvested 60 million metric tonnes of crops in 2018, conference attendees heard. We are already a global leader in high-protein pulse crops such as peas, lentils and chickpeas, harvesting 6.5 million metric tonnes annually.

However, Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, said Canada must do more to maximize its “natural advantages.”

“What we see as the future is very little of our commodities going out of Western Canada as raw seed,” Greuel said in an interview. “Our vision would be the vast majority of crops being processed into higher value ingredients here in Western Canada and, as a first step, those ingredients being shipped out. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t think about 20 years from now, finished food products being produced here.”

Protein Industries Canada (PIC) — a group of businesses, post-secondary institutions and non-profits working together to make Canada a world leader in the plant protein market — was awarded $153 million from the federal government last November through its Innovation Superclusters Initiative. Greuel said his organization is now looking to leverage that funding by partnering with the private sector, and issued its first call for proposals in April with $40 million in available funding for projects aimed at growing the sector. PIC will match up to 50 per cent of industry investments on all eligible expenses for successful projects.

“We’ve defined some outcomes we’re looking for, but we don’t view it as our job to tell industry how to get there,” Greuel said. “Industry knows how to get there . . . we’re really looking for the private sector to come to us and give us a sense of where the investments should be made.”

In addition to value-added processing, Greuel said Western Canada needs to invest in crop research and development. It is possible, for example, to use plant breeding and genetics to increase the protein content in canola, one of Canada’s signature crops. There are also exciting opportunities to ramp up Canadian production and processing of other lesser-known but high-protein crops such as hemp, camelina and soybeans.

Hemp plants in Vegreville on Aug. 9, 2017. Photo by David Bloom DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

One company that will be applying under the program is Calgary-based Botaneco, which is hoping to access funding to help commercialize the novel oilseeds processing technique it has spent the past five years developing. Botaneco believes its process — which extracts the naturally occurring oil and protein from seeds such as canola, hemp, sunflower and safflower — has a range of possibilities for both the food and personal-care markets.

“We have so many endowments in these three Prairie provinces that we haven’t been utilizing,” said Botaneco CEO James Szarko. “We’ve typically built bigger grain elevators, bigger transportation systems, but a lot of it has been based on commodities. The next step here is to really build the value-added part.”

The global demand for plant-based food sources has been increasing for a variety of reasons. A growing middle class in highly populated parts of the world such as Asia means more mouths to feed. People with higher disposable incomes demand higher-quality sources of food, including protein — yet concerns about environmental sustainability and human health are leading to declines in red meat consumption in North America and Western Europe. According to a study by the University of Dalhousie, 6.4 million Canadians are already following a diet that restricts meat at least partially. The new Canada Food Guide, released in January, urges Canadians to adopt more plant-based sources of protein while a report in the medical journal The Lancet said a global reduction in meat consumption will be necessary by 2050 for environmental and food security reasons.

Szarko said the consumer trends are real, and are driving a fundamental market shift that the Canadian agriculture and agri-food industry must be prepared for.

“This could be a true economic driver of growth across the country,” he said. “It’s time for Canada now.”

Gene responsible for toxic metal accumulation in durum wheat identified

Researchers complete genome assembly of durum wheat, identify gene responsible for cadmium accumulation.

Heads of durum wheat. Research by UAlberta biologists has identified the gene responsible for cadmium accumulation in the crop, with potential applications for improving food safety. Photo courtesy of Neil Harris.

University of Alberta biologists identify gene responsible for cadmium accumulation in durum wheat, according to a new study published in Nature Genetics. For humans, consuming cadmium, a toxic metal that accumulates in grain crops, poses serious health risks, including cancer and kidney disease.

“The mechanism responsible for high cadmium accumulation in Canadian varieties of durum wheat has, until now, remained elusive,” said Neil Harris, researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences and co-author on the study. Canada is the world’s leading exporter of durum wheat, providing approximately 50 per cent of global durum exports.

Food safety

Cadmium, which naturally occurs in soil, is absorbed into plants through the roots. The gene—named TdHMA3-B1—produces a metal-transporting protein that stores cadmium in roots preventing its transport up to the shoots and grain. “Our work identified a mutation in TdHMA3-B1 that disrupts its function. Durum wheat varieties with the non-functional TdHMA3-B1 are unable to restrict cadmium transport to the grain,” said Harris.

“A genetic marker for the mutation is now being used to screen all Canadian durum breeding lines, enabling rapid development of low-cadmium durum wheats. As a result, all durum wheat varieties now released in Canada accumulate two to three-fold less cadmium in their grain, thereby increasing the quality and safety of pasta and couscous, the primary products derived from Canadian durum wheat.”

The identification of TdHMA3-B1 is one of many practical applications of how understanding the durum wheat genome can improve food security and safety. Others include improved yield, insect and disease resistance, and resilience to environmental stresses arising from climate change such as heat and drought.

The study was conducted in collaboration with Gregory Taylor, professor, and Kevin Liang, undergraduate student in the department. The paper, “Durum wheat genome highlights past domestication signatures and future improvement targets,” is published in Nature Genetics (doi: 10.1038/s41588-019-0381-3).

Originally posted on: University of Alberta’s blog – Folio

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