Rx for Canadian grainDate posted: March 28, 2005
'Flax Canada 2015' is an example of the new thinking that promises to break Canada's commodity mindset and inject new hope for the country's grains industry. Perspective from initiative coordinator Kelley Fitzpatrick.
There is a growing segment in Canadian agriculture that feels the biggest change needed to get the country's grain industry on track has nothing to do with subsidies, trade battles or commodity prices. What's needed is an overhaul in mindset - a tectonic shift away from commodity and production oriented thinking toward aggressive science and value chains.
One person firmly in this camp is Kelley Fitzpatrick, former marketing and research co-ordinator for the University of Manitoba's Richardson Centre, who is now working with leading research, industry, health care and government players across the country as co-ordinator of "Flax Canada 2015," an innovative new initiative that aims to create new lines of business for higher-value flax based products and processes.
Fitzpatrick talked to Meristem Land and Science at the recent Prairie Registration Recommending Committee for Grain (PRRCG) annual meeting in Winnipeg.
Q: Tell us about Flax Canada 2015.
A: Flax Canada 2015 is a unique initiative that will establish linkages between researchers, industry, the health care community and government, to develop new lines of business for higher-value flax based products and processes. The principle goal of the initiative is to secure long-term support of the Government of Canada and the Prairie Provinces for a ten-year program to develop healthcare strategies, to increase research into new commercial products, to ensure utilization of value-added components, and to develop a branding strategy based on flax.
The project will document the opportunity to obtain an additional $1.5 billion farm gate value in the bio-economy from flax by 2015. We will position flax as a key pillar to address health care in Canada.
Q: Who are the key players behind this initiative?
A: The core funding right now comes from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Flax Council of Canada, the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission and the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The total initiative is valued at over $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions and spans a period of fifteen months.
Members of our Steering Committee include: John Oliver of Maple Leaf Bio-Concepts, who chairs the committee, Brian Freeze of AAFC, Neal Oberg representing the Government of Alberta, Abdul Jalil of the Government of Saskatchewan, Daryl Domitruk of the Government of Manitoba, Linda Braun of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, Ashley O'Sullivan of Ag West Bio and Barry Hall of the Flax Council of Canada.
Q: How is this different from traditional commodity approaches?
A: I'm very excited about this initiative. I think it's quite unique and innovative, and it has a lot of potential for crossover to other crops and crop types.
The key to this initiative and what it represents is moving out from the commodity mindset into more value added applications. My area of expertise is in nutrition - functional foods and nutraceuticals in particular. And I've always believed that flax has a lot of potential. We're seeing more and more of that with clinical science supporting the efficacy of a number of flax bioactives. And I believe we in Canadian agriculture as a whole can do a lot more with what we produce in regard to bioactives. We must convince the medical profession, health care providers and the Canadian government that agricultural bioactives such as those found in flax can be a solution to disease and contribute to healthier lifestyles.
Q: You've said flax presents an opportunity to become Canada's 21st century bio-economy crop. Can you explain?
A: With Flax Canada 2015, our aim is to ensure total plant utilization for flax in regard to overall market opportunities. This means not only looking at food potential, but at nutraceutical applications and other applications which include bioproducts, animal productivity and of course product development for flax fibers. Many Canadian crops have excellent value added potential, but we believe flax is uniquely suited to be a leader in this area.
For example, flax contains high lignans - compounds that have shown very specific health benefits. I'd like to see more of these components being sold in capsules and pills rather than leaving the country in bulk form in a rail car. Already there is a company out of San Diego that has very strong science supporting the efficacy of a flax lignan product that is positioned toward women for pre- and post-menopausal conditions.
Foods and nutrition applications are only one or several interesting and potentially profitable areas where we as FC 2015 are very interested in spending a little money and getting more activity involved in the market.
Q: Health is obviously the elephant in the room in terms of agricultural opportunities. How can agriculture tackle this opportunity more directly?
A: In Canada, health care costs are forecast to triple in the next 20-25 years, potentially bankrupting some provinces, and this issue is a top priority for the Federal Government and for Provincial Governments. It's an important time in history, where we have an opportunity influence the mindset of the health research and health care communities in this country - to move away from treatment at the end of the day, toward long-term prevention. What's exciting is that flax, as well as a number of our other agricultural crops, have bioactives and other valuable health and nutrition components that fit with that model very, very effectively.
With Flax Canada 2015, we have put together a particular model, whereby we're involving the research community, industry and government, as well as health care professionals to look at ways to capture these type of opportunities through our grain production. To be successful, we need to involve all segments of the value chain, from production all the way to the end user. We're also looking at developing a branding strategy for Canadian flax.
Q: How big is the potential?
A: It's huge. In the area of human health alone, which is a major focus for us, there's a lot of potential for flax in functional foods, nutraceuticals and traditional food products. We're looking at all the potential and bringing in clinical science as needed to ensure we're focusing on the right market opportunities.
Last summer before I started with this initiative I worked with Dr. Dianne Morris who has done a lot of work on the health benefits of flax, and we put together an overview of clinical research in the area and where we see the market opportunities. We provided the Flax Canada 2015 steering committee several recommendations in areas of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and longer term, in breast cancer. These are all chronic disease that will affect Canadians, and therefore Canadian health care, most significantly over the next 20 to 25 years, and they are all areas where flax oil and flax bioactives have significant potential to make a difference in disease treatment and longer term prevention.
These are areas where we're trying to rally support for clinical research and market development - and we believe both go hand in hand. For example, we want to be able to provide the regulators in Ottawa hard numbers to support scenarios whereby if, for example, we can show that with a certain reductions in blood cholesterol or glucose through flax feeding, cost reductions can be translated into long term health implications for Canadians. It's that kind of data we need in order to develop protocols and consensus on areas of health research to fund in the future and to ensure that the funding is available to conduct such research
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