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Toni-Lynn DeHaan: Looking out for Canadians and Canadian farmers

picture - Toni-Lynn DeHaan

Toni-Lynn DeHaan's greatest thrill on the job is bringing the CFIA's significant resources to bear on any crisis that threatens the health of Canadian food crops—and, by association, the livelihoods of Canadian farmers.

Born and bred in the Maritimes, Toni-Lynn keeps issues regarding farmed potatoes uppermost in her mind as she manages her section at the Charlottetown Plant Health Lab—enforcing diagnostic protocols, facilitating the CFIA potato accreditation program and ensuring six privately owned testing laboratories across Canada measure up to the CFIA's stringent quality-assurance standards for potato testing.

"We're the key lab involved in any crisis that would appear with respect to potatoes," she says. "We also work as an assisting lab for other products."

High stakes

Toni-Lynn's most satisfying moments arrive in the form of successful crisis management, such as during the PVYn (potato virus Y) crisis of 1989-1993 in which the United States closed its borders to PEI potatoes. During this period, the CFIA tested 100,000 potato leaves a day to screen for the virus.

"This was a serious emergency in which a huge amount of money was at stake," says Toni-Lynn. "We were able to use CFIA resources to help resolve the problem and protect the livelihoods of farmers. To be involved in crises that are eventually resolved—and to be an important player in the resolution—is immensely satisfying."

These high stakes keep Toni-Lynn at the top of her field, continually networking with CFIA labs across the country and with private labs in case help is needed during a future emergency.

A lifelong pursuit

Passionate about agriculture, plant health and plant protection for her entire adult life, Toni-Lynn pursued science at McGill University in the 1970s, worked in food production inspection, and went on to obtain a Master's degree in the late 1980s. Prince Edward Island has been her home for most of her professional career, and where she has chosen to build her life.

She admits her journey has been a challenging one. The period in which Toni-Lynn simultaneously held down a full-time job, completed graduate work and helped raise her young family was particularly trying. But it was a journey well worth the effort.

Along the way, the CFIA's culture of employee empowerment has been integral to Toni-Lynn's success, she says.

"If you have a keen interest in some aspect of your work, they hand you the reins," she says. "The CFIA insists on the strictest standards of excellence, and at the same time offers its employees enormous opportunity to expand their science base. It has the vision and wisdom to accept creative ideas and encourage inventive solutions."

Moreover, the CFIA enforces among the highest standards for food safety in the world, which not only safeguards human health and protects the environment, but also secures a place in world markets for Canadians producers.

"Canadian producers have access to markets all over the world because of the high level of science we practise day in and day out."