by SUSAN MANN
A federal agriculture department scientist who helped reduce the impact of E. coli and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) infections on the Canadian cattle industry will be the last recipient of the H.R. MacMillan Laureate in Agriculture Award from the University of Guelph.
Tim McAllister, a principal research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the department’s Lethbridge, Alberta research station, will receive the $10,000 prize at the university’s winter convocation during a ceremony for the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) Wednesday afternoon.
This is the final year the award will be presented.
Rene Van Acker, OAC associate dean, external relations, says the money for the award has run out.
McAllister, whose work is focused on ruminant nutrition and microbiology, says winning the award is "a bit overwhelming. It's a huge honour." He was told about a month ago in a letter from the University of Guelph that he had won. After reading the letter, he says he was pretty surprised.
"You always ask yourself whether you actually merit that great a recognition given that you're always just slogging away in the trenches," he says, adding he doesn't pay too much attention to how things accumulate over time but "I guess my work done over time made it suitable for a nomination for that kind of recognition, which is great."
The prize is awarded every five years “to recognize significant leadership in Canadian agriculture,” the university’s Feb. 17 press release says. It was established in 1964 by the late H.R. MacMillan, who graduated from OAC in 1906. He made the prize available to celebrate the college’s 100th anniversary. It was first presented in 1969 and this is the 10th award.
BSE is a progressive, fatal neurological disease in cattle. Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed a case of BSE in a beef cow from Alberta. It was detected through the national BSE surveillance program.
The exact cause of BSE is unknown but it is associated with the presence of an abnormal protein called a prion, CFIA says in a BSE fact sheet on its website.
In 2003 a major outbreak of the disease ravaged the Canadian cattle industry.
McAllister’s research has been crucial for the livestock industry, particularly his work in nutrition and beef production, food and environmental safety, E. coli mitigation and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, the university’s release says. His work on prion inactivation helped Canada’s beef industry manage the effects of the BSE crisis in 2003, the release says.
Van Acker, who also chaired the national panel of academic and industry leaders that selected the recipient, said there were eight nominees from across Canada for this year’s award.
There “was a real range of types of people,” he notes. McAllister was nominated by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and his nomination was supported by beef industry organizations.
“The award is meant to reflect impact on the agricultural industry with an emphasis on the past five years but in reality we look at total impact,” he says. McAllister’s work in BSE “makes us stop and pay attention.”
In looking at the impact McAllister has had on the industry, the committee considered his outstanding research work along with his ability to work collaboratively with farmers, processors and other stakeholders in the sector. “He has an uncommon ability to work across those continuums,” Van Acker says.
McAllister is an adjunct professor at five Canadian universities and at Colorado State University, the University of Sydney and China’s Dalian University of Technology. He has written or co-authored almost 500 peer-reviewed papers and articles.
While he is at the university’s campus, McAllister will be giving a talk on the abundance, importance and capabilities of rumen fungi. The talk is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Animal Science and Nutrition Building, Room 141. The event is free and open to the public. BF