McGill Institute for Global Food Security speaker
The McGill Institute for Global Food Security hosts the annual Global Food Security Conference, which draws scholars from around the world.

Ensuring safe food sources

It sounds impossible, but the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a global population of over nine billion people. But approximately one billion people are already undernourished today, and more than 20 countries are in long-term food crises. What’s the answer?

Part of the solution will come from research conducted at the McGill Institute for Global Food Security. Established in 2010, its mandate includes helping to raise agricultural productivity growth to meet future needs while emphasizing sustainability and conservation.

“Food security means much more than just making sure that people have enough to eat,” says Professor Hugo Melgar-Quiñonez, Institute Director and Margaret Gilliam Faculty Scholar in Food Security. “It is about making sure that all people have access to enough food that is safe and has the nutritional qualities so that they can lead healthy and active lives.”

His research was made possible by a $1.5-million gift from Margaret A. Gilliam, BSc’59, founder of business consulting firm Gilliam & Co. The funds will also be used to support fellowships for outstanding McGill graduate students in the field of food security, as well as an endowment for food security research.

Producing enough food is only one problem; another is ensuring that the food we eat is safe and healthy. Although most food-borne illnesses go officially undetected, with an estimated cost to the Canadian economy of $12 to $14 billion per year, they are no trivial problem. Beyond money, outbreaks of E. coli and listeriosis originating in food processing plants garner headlines because they lead to deaths – avoidable deaths.

To save lives and costly recalls, the food industry needs faster techniques to detect food spoilage than we have now – and that’s precisely the expertise of Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, who will serve as McGill’s first Ian and Jayne Munro Chair in Food Safety, created through a gift of $1.5 million from the late Dr. Ian Munro, BSc(Agr)’62, MSc’67. An investment of $500,000 from the University and a further $1 million still to be raised will ensure the Chair is endowed in perpetuity.

Set to start at the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in the summer of 2013, Goodridge primarily researches the use of bacteriophages (“phages”) to study and solve food-production problems. Only a decade after earning his PhD, the young researcher has already been awarded two patents and one provisional patent for his research related to rapid detection of foodborne pathogens.

“Food safety will become more and more important, because of larger scale production,” explains Professor Varoujan Yaylayan, Chair of the Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry. That’s why the Department opened a three-semester non-thesis Master’s program in September, 2012 aimed at sharpening the skills of industry professionals. The program has welcomed excellent applicants, and Goodridge will be a magnet for other renowned experts to join the Faculty.

It’s all part of the Department’s effort to establish what Yaylayan feels is essential to understanding the field properly: “a holistic view, to cover food safety from farm to fork.”