May 18, 2007
A single word – “novel” – has sidelined efforts by the University’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) to register a new variety of barley that has the potential to reduce input costs for producers and provide a partial solution to the problem of phosphorus in animal waste.
At a meeting last month attended by industry, government and University representatives, Brian Rossnagel outlined the roadblocks thrown up by the feed section of the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in the path of HB379, a low phytate hulless barley. The decision by the CFIA to classify HB379 as a “novel feed” because of its low phytate level has the renowned barley breeder frustrated to the point of giving up on trying to register the barley he has been working on since 1998.
For those unfamiliar with low phytate, Rossnagel explained that phosphorus (P), an essential nutrient, is stored in seeds as either phytate or free phosphorus. About 75 per cent of the phosphorus in regular barley is stored as phytate with the remaining 25 per cent as free P.
Animals with only one stomach (pigs, poultry and even humans) cannot absorb phytate so when they are fed regular barley, only 25 per cent of the P is available to them. The rest, stored as phytate, is “in one end and out the other,” said Rossnagel, creating high concentrations of P in waste and potential pollution problems.
To increase available P, producers must supplement the diet with additional P in the form of dicalcium phosphate, “pound for pound, one of the most expensive parts of the diet,” and with a phytase enzyme that breaks down phytate into a usable form.
With HB379, the numbers are reversed – 75 per cent of the P is available to the animal and only 25 per cent is stored as phytate, greatly reducing both the cost of diet supplements and phosphorus build-up in effluent.
Problems arose in the registration process when the CFIA decided HB379 was a novel feed, which creates a much more complex, rigorous and time-consuming registration process and raises the spectre of safety testing. “And we all know the kinds of costs associated with that,” said Rossnagel.
Ironically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its own low phytate barley in July 2006, about the same time Rossnagel received word of the “novel feed” designation of his variety.
“Needless to say, my blood pressure went up.”
Rossnagel said the CFIA ruling is unreasonable and has no sound scientific basis. There are no health, safety or nutritional concerns around low phytate levels, and, he pointed out, many Canadian feeds, including some barley-based ones, have more available P than HB379.
A Saskatchewan registered seed company was set to grow out the variety under the name CDC Lophy-1 to commercial quantity, but that has been halted, as has a large feeding study at the University. Canada, he said, “continues to shoot itself in the foot with this stupid definition of novel.”
Rossnagel’s frustration with the regulatory process is shared by CDC Managing Director Dorothy Murrell, who said food safety is uppermost in the minds of breeders. No one wants to release a product they didn’t consider to be safe (but) innovation is what they do. The government,” she added, “regulates in a way that creates hurdles in front of innovation.”
Glyn Chancey of the CFIA plant production division attended the meeting as an observer but disagreed with Rossnagel’s view of the registration process. “There are not really any significant impediments to the registration of this variety that a constructive engagement between Brian and the CDC and our feed section couldn’t resolve in short order.”
Rossnagel will travel to Ottawa to meet with CFIA officials, and will hold a similar meeting for industry representatives and producers in Winnipeg where phosphorus levels in effluent from intensive hog operations is a much bigger problem than in Saskatchewan.