Taking The Lead In The Connection Between Food And Health

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One might ask, why Canada?” says Dr. Spencer Proctor, a leading heart disease researcher at the University of Alberta, who has established a successful, unique program closely tying agriculture and human health sectors.

“When you look a the advantages and opportunities we have here, I would answer by changing that statement to why not Canada”

That positive and confident attitude is just what both the province and the country need to capture science-driven opportunities in the agriculture and agri-food sector, says Proctor. He shared his thoughts with journalists and communicators in a presentation titled, “Capitalizing on Canada’s science-powered opportunity,” at the recent Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation (CFWF) conference in Edmonton.

Proctor says resources and top people are important, but attitude can trump all of these. Too often, many individuals and institutions fall short with a tentative, rather than seize-the-day approach.

Proctor himself has “walked the talk” throughout his career, earning a prestigious international research award from his native Australia in 2002 that brought him to the U of A. Within a couple years he was appointed as an assistant professor in nutrition and established the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory. Among recent accomplishments, Proctor and colleagues have generated world-first findings supporting that natural trans fats found in dairy and beef products may in fact be good, “healthy fats” that help battle heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions.

KEYS TO LEAD

From his perspective perched on the leading edge of research where these agriculture and health worlds meet, Proctor delivered thoughts on the keys to not just progressing, but truly leading.

Be self-critical. “We need to be self conscious and aware of both the good things and the bad things that we are doing day-today in this sector.”

Take action. “There’s a time for talk and a time for action. Often, we love to talk – to sit in the same room and make sure everyone is feeling good about a particular idea. That’s good and needed, but we also need to follow up with action.”

Think different. “Sometimes both in academics and in this sector, we love to re-invent the round wheel. We like to be repetitious, and we like to feel comfortable about the things we know how to do well. But round is only one shape. Do something different.”

Reach out. “We love to communicate within the sector and often we do that very well, but in examples that I’ve seen we potentially need to do a lot more to connect with more people outside the sector. We’re preaching to the converted. We need to engage more than just our neighbour and the people that we know well. Spend more time out of the silo and out of your own field.”

Embrace mistakes. “Everybody makes mistakes. But it’s from the mistakes that we generate discovery. Almost every major pharmaceutical invention that we know to date in medicine has come from a mistake. Mistakes are healthy. Get the perspective and precedence you can, but don’t be afraid to act.”

Be international, as well as local. “Don’t be afraid to think of yourselves as being international leaders. We need to think about being international in order to be international.”

Put quality first, and not necessarily quantity. “Sometimes large quantities, efficiency and conglomerates have been required. But that’s not necessarily always the best way..”

Don’t just compete, complement. “Everything doesn’t need to be Albertan. Everything doesn’t need to be Canadian. There is lots of opportunity in complementing what others are doing.”

Stand tall. Perhaps most important, Proctor emphasized Alberta and, by extension, Canada, shouldn’t sell itself short. “You have a beautiful province and there is so much opportunity here. This province has been very good to us – both to myself and to my family and we are happy to be where we are.”

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