Dr. Stuart Smyth

Dr. Stuart Smyth is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and holds the Industry Funded Research Chair in Agri-Food Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Smyth’s research focuses on innovation and agriculture and the resulting impacts. He was part of a group of academics that received $5.4 million in funding over 5 years in 2009 from Genome Canada to examine the genomic, economic, environmental, ethical, legal and social (GE³LS) issues pertaining to bioproducts and biofuels. Recent publications in 2014 include: co-editor with Peter Phillips (U Sask) and David Castle (U Victoria) of the Handbook on Agriculture, Biotechnology and Development, a 51 chapter book published by Edward Elgar and co-editor with Jose Falck-Zepeda (IFPRI) and Karinne Ludlow (Monash U, Melbourne, Aust.) of Socio-Economic Considerations in Biotechnology Regulation, published by Springer. 

Education

2005 - Ph.D. University of Saskatchewan, Interdisciplinary Studies
A Decade Of Regulating Agricultural Biotechnology In Canada: A Case Study From 1994 – 2004
1993 - B.A. University of Saskatchewan, Public Administration

Employment

2014 - Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan
2008/14 - Research Scientist, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (formerly: Bioresources, Policy, Business and Economics), College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan
Leading GE3LS researcher on the Genome Canada funded VALGEN project and PI on three other research projects. 
2004/08 - Professional Research Associate, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (formerly: Bioresources, Policy, Business and Economics), College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan
Engaged on Genome Canada funded research projects that explored GE3LS topics, namely governance/regulatory and intellectual property issues relating to the innovation of agricultural biotechnology.

Current Research Interests

The following are abstracts from papers that have just been published or have been accepted for publication and reflect some of Dr. Smyth's current research interests.

Should Global Agricultural Trade End? How to ‘Fence-out’ Europe in the Trade of GM Products

Global trade in agricultural products has a notorious history of being subject to trade barriers and other distortionary policies. Nowhere has international trade been more distorted than in the trade of genetically modified (GM) products. In 2006, Argentina, Canada and the United States were successful in a trade dispute with the European Union regarding the importation of GM products, with the WTO finding that Europe was inconsistent in regards in its obligations under the SPS Agreement. In spite to this WTO ruling, little has changed, with the horizon looking equally bleak. The EU processes for approving GM crops is in disarray and it is very difficult to fathom how GM crops can ever reach commercial production levels in the EU.

Given the apparently unbridgeable divide that has developed between the 25-odd countries that grow and trade GM-crops and evolving EU regulatory hurdles, it may be time to consider alternatives to realizing a global market for agricultural markets. Africa is one area of the world where the battle over GM agriculture is being played out, yet it is the continent where genetic modification could have the greatest positive impact. Numerous African nations, given their long standing trade connections to European nations are fearful of allowing the commercialization of GM crops, due to the potential for co-mingling of GM and conventional products and, hence, the loss of  export opportunities in the EU. These are legitimate concerns.

One potential solution that warrants serious consideration would be to establish a pool of funds that could be accessed by African agricultural commodity exporters in instances where exports to Europe are rejected. A production levy could be imposed in the leading industrial adopting nations (i.e. Australia, Canada and the US). The revenue raised would provide an endowment for a fund that could be used to offset the costs realized due to import refusals.  African sourced shipments rejected by the EU will most certainly have alternate markets, but could receive a reduced price or incur higher costs associated with serving alternate markets. The intent of the fund would be to compensate for the real difference between the net returns contracted European importers and the final market price received.

This paper will examine the feasibility of establishing such a fund and discuss the options for funding this pool of revenue. African commodity export data will be analyzed to establish the range of value of trade that might be annually affected. Both the economic and political feasibility of this solution will be examined to determine whether it would enable African producers and consumers to participate in the benefits of GM crops without the worry that their commercial interests will be harmed by EU trade action. 

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Investment, Regulation and Uncertainty: Managing New Plant Breeding Techniques

As with any technological innovation, time refines the technology, improving upon the original versions of the innovative product. The refinement and improvement of innovations is not confined to consumer products, great advances have also occurred in plant biotechnology. The initial GM crops had single traits for either herbicide tolerance or insect resistance. Current varieties have both of these traits stacked together and in many cases other abiotic and biotic traits have also been stacked, such as for drought resistance. The technologies used to create the initial GM crop varieties in the late 1980s and early 1990s have also been considerably refined and improved upon. The rudimentary techniques used over 20 years ago have now been replaced with refined technologies that are incredibly precise and in some instances, no longer requiring marker genes to allow for the detection of the inserted trait.

Innovation requires investment and while this is relatively straight forward, certain conditions need to exist such that investments can be facilitated. The principle requirement is that regulatory frameworks render consistent and timely decisions. Once the certainty of regulatory outcomes weaken, the potential for changes in investment patterns increases.

This paper provides a summary background to the leading plant breeding technologies that are either currently being used to develop new crop varieties or are in the pipeline to be applied to plant breeding within the next few years. Challenges for existing regulatory systems will be highlighted. Utilizing an option value approach from investment literature, an assessment of uncertainty regarding the regulatory approval for these varying techniques will be undertaken. This research will highlight which technology development option will have the greatest degree of uncertainty and hence, which ones might be expected to see an investment decline.

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How Low Can You Go: The Consequences of Zero Tolerance

Tolerance levels exist for many undesirable food attributes with potential food safety hazards: insect fragments, stones, livestock antibiotics, chemical residues, and manure. Yet the current debate about zero tolerance relates to the presence of GM material, with far less consensus regarding the acceptance of traces of GM material and the role of science and technology as the arbiter of a safety threshold. This results in international trade tensions, and increased complexity in supply chain relationships. Embedded in zero tolerance standards for GM material are divergent perceptions encompassing what constitutes quality and an extension of the use of zero tolerance requirements beyond food safety to encompass different notions of food quality. 

Drawing upon economic and political economy arguments, the paper examines the drivers behind zero tolerance standards for GM material and the implications for supply chain relationships and international trade.  Two recent examples of the application of zero tolerance standards for GM material in international food markets are explored in the paper. In 2009 trace amounts of a deregistered GM variety of Canadian flax were discovered in Germany, leading to the closure of the EU market to Canadian flaxseed. Improvements in testing facilitated the discovery of trace amounts of GM flax which had been withdrawn from the market for a number of years and was therefore thought to have been removed completely from the food chain. The flax case highlights the essence of challenges that are likely to arise with zero tolerance standards as testing technologies continue to evolve.  The second case examined in the paper is the September 2011 EU Court of Justice ruling banning the sale of honey produced from the pollen of GM crops. The ruling has the potential to restrict the growing of approved GM varieties in the EU if honey producers are subject to externality effects from nearby GM crop production.

Together, the two cases provide an opportunity to explore the causes and consequences of zero tolerance standards in food markets. The politicization of risk, the implications for monitoring, certification and liability within supply chains, and the market access and international trade policy implications of zero tolerance standards are explored within this context. The juxtaposition of the two cases (flax and honey) provide an opportunity to explore the, perhaps unintended, consequences of zero tolerance standards and to examine the sometimes contradictory role of science and technology as both the arbiter of science-based food safety standards and the facilitator of increasingly exact quality standards.

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Public Engagements

2008/14 - Member of the Board of Directors for the International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR) Conference. 
2011 - Co-Chair of Genetically Modified Coexistence Conference (GMCC-11).

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Videos

Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security Conference: 

Mobilization to the Developing World

June 14th - 16th, 2016 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan