Is 'Key Element' in University's
New Vision for Future
Funding supports leading-edge research, educational programs
and laboratory services
veterinary student Jackie Gordon examines a cow as part
of her training in large-animal medicine. OMAFRA funds clinical
education through the enhanced partnership contract with
U of G.
PHOTO BY MARTIN SCHWALBE
The renewal of the enhanced partnership agreement
between U of G and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is a "tremendous opportunity
to renew our vision for agri-food research, education and
technology transfer in support of innovation and the public
good," says president Mordechai Rozanski.
By April, the University and OMAFRA will redefine how they
will work together for the next five years. It's work that
has enormous impact, not only on Ontario's $9.54-billion
agri-food industry, but also on the health and well-being
of the province's people, animals and environment.
When the contract took effect April 1, 1997, Rozanski called
it an "unparalleled example of government/university
The agreement - which builds on a more than 30-year relationship
- has since delivered numerous benefits for Ontario, says
Prof. Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research).
"Today, the University is at the forefront of a new
era of advanced technological research that merges agri-food,
nutrition, health and pharmaceutical research with advanced
information technologies," he says.
Rozanski sees the renewal of the enhanced partnership as
a "key element" in a new vision that will build
on the University's historical strengths in agri-food and
"Guelph's expertise in the plant and animal life sciences,
and our culture of innovation and application, allows us
to solve real-life problems and improve the quality of people's
lives," he says.
"We are all working very hard in these negotiations
to advance these goals. There are significant budget challenges.
But we are dedicated to overcoming these challenges because
the enhanced partnership is such an important element in
our ability to make important discoveries and deliver valuable
applications that benefit the citizens of this province
The funding that OMAFRA transfers to the University ($50.5
million in 2001/2002) supports research, education and laboratory
About $38 million was earmarked for research in 2000/2001.
The University and OMAFRA work together to establish research
priorities that become deliverables in the contract. The
objectives relate to human, animal and plant health; rural
communities; environmental management; and food safety.
"Research - both basic and applied - keeps our agri-food
sector on the leading edge," says Wildeman. "It
is primarily at universities that basic or curiosity-based
research is encouraged and given long enough timelines to
nurture new ideas that lead to groundbreaking advances."
U of G research includes the creation of new commodities
that have health-promoting or disease-preventing properties.
These "next generation" products - nutraceuticals,
antibodies and vaccines - have the potential to open new
agricultural markets and could boost rural and agricultural
For example, one research group has found a way to incorporate
DHA into milk. DHA is an important omega-3 fatty acid for
brain and retinal development, and it may lower the risk
of cardiovascular disease.
Another team is finding ways to extract important biochemically
active compounds from Ontario crops, such as betacarotene
from carrots and tomatoes, phytoestrogens from soybeans
and flavours and fragrances from flowers. Unlike conventional
extraction techniques, their process extracts the valuable
substances without generating toxic residues and hazardous
Researchers are also investigating methods of producing
antibodies in plants such as tobacco and eggs. "Plantibodies"
produced in tobacco could be used to detect food- and water-borne
diseases. Researchers hope the egg project will lead to
cheap and abundant supplies of a vaccine for rotavirus,
considered one of the most serious diseases in the world,
with up to three million children dying from it each year.
OVC faculty are also advancing human health through comparative
medical research on reproductive technologies, genetic diseases,
cancer, radiation treatment and antibiotic resistance. One
current project involves testing a vaccine for cows that
could eliminate the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacterium.
Work is also under way on technology to better treat joint
injuries in horses and people, and to prevent the early
onset of arthritis.
A number of research efforts are focused on strategies
that will lead to more efficient and environmentally friendly
agricultural methods. For example, an integrated pest management
treatment program for apple growers is using a variety of
environmentally friendly products to save producers from
orchard losses, significantly reducing the amount of chemical
pesticides needed to maintain a healthy and profitable crop.
OMAFRA funding also supports educational programs, including
the University's agri-food diploma programs at OAC and Ridgetown,
Kemptville and Alfred colleges, and OVC's Veterinary Clinical
Education Program (VCEP).
"Through training programs and an investment in research,
new generations of highly qualified people will play important
roles in the development of the agri-food industry,"
says Wildeman. "Universities have a crucial role to
provide a continual source of skills and ideas, which contribute
to a healthy economy, society and environment."
OVC dean Alan Meek says the VCEP funding "is critical
to our ability to provide our students with essential clinical
education that serves Ontario's food-animal industry and
the animal-owning public at large."
Recent events have shown the vital importance of veterinary
colleges and veterinarians in Canada's infrastructure for
public health protection, including regulatory agencies,
food safety, wildlife and environmental health and medical
research, he notes.
Veterinarians promote the quality and safety of food through
proactive means, such as animal health programs that decrease
the use of antibiotics.
Veterinary practitioners and researchers also play a key
role in disease surveillance and outbreak response. "They
are the first line of defence against threats to human and
animal health, such as West Nile virus, mad cow disease,
E. coli contamination and other diseases that can
be transmitted through the food chain," Meek says.
"Without effective and adequate training programs,
this critical link in our defence of public and environment
health would be lost."
The safety of the provincial food supply also relies on
U of G's Laboratory Services division, which was transferred
from OMAFRA in 1997 under the terms of the enhanced partnership.
OMAFRA uses Lab Services for analysis that meets the requirements
of various provincial acts and regulations covering health
and safety standards for food production.
"We strive to ensure that the food produced and sold
in Ontario is safe to eat," says general manager Patricia
Collins. "We are testing products on a daily basis
that are entering or already in the food supply. That includes
meat, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Every year,
we test 285,000 dairy samples alone."
OMAFRA also uses data from Lab Services to scan for disease
"Through our diagnostic services, we are actively
monitoring the health of the herds in the province to watch
for potential outbreaks that would represent a human health
hazard or be economically devastating to a sector of the
industry," Collins says.
Lab Services also provides OMAFRA with environmental monitoring
services, including identifying plant diseases, soil testing
and monitoring the quality of water in the Great Lakes.
The individual successes of the research, education and
laboratory services under the OMAFRA contract collectively
result in synergies with far-reaching effects, says Wildeman.
The partnership with OMAFRA is a major factor in the growth
of the research and development cluster around U of G, he
says. The University now has more than 35 external partners
from government, industry and academia, and 25 research
centres and institutes on campus.
Ultimately, Rozanski says, the goal is "to improve
the quality of people's lives by creating safe and high-quality
food, by advancing health and well-being, and by creating
high-value industrial bioproducts that contribute to a clean,
"The University and OMAFRA have achieved a great deal
in the last five years through the enhanced partnership,
and the renewal of the agreement this spring will enable
us to focus on future innovation."