The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has released requests for applications (RFA) to support improving the safety of the U.S. food through research and education. The USDA said Wednesday that NIFA plans to award $5 million in grants in fiscal year 2012 to “support the food safety challenge area.”
“USDA is committed to supporting research that improves the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA. “Ensuring the safety of food is a top priority for USDA, and we will continue to work with our public and private sector partners on developing solutions to decrease potential risks.”

In a release, the agency said that the long-term goal of the sponsored research is “to reduce food-borne hazards by improving the safety of the food supply, which will result in reduced negative impacts on public health and on our economy.”

The funding for this fiscal year will focus on strengthening the food safety scientific discipline, which will look at protecting consumers from any microbial, chemical and physical hazards that may occur along the incredibly complex food chain.
“This requires an understanding of the interdependencies of human, animal and ecosystem health as it pertains to food-borne hazards,” said USDA in release. “Each application will go through a competitive selection process based on scientific merit and be reviewed by an external panel of peer reviewers.”

Previous NIFA-funded food safety projects include:

  • Researchers at Cornell University used a $455,000 grant to create DNA-based “nanobarcodes” that can play a major role in food safety by tracking bacteria to detect pathogens and toxins;

  • University of Nebraska researchers used a grant of $953,735 to develop a tool that helps determine when and where food-borne pathogens enter cattle feedlots;

  • A grant of $399,398 to Arizona State University has produced vaccines that are currently being evaluated for their ability to protect chickens from Salmonella and E. coli, which will result in chicken meat being safer for human consumption;

  • University of Washington, supported by a five-year, $2.5 million grant, is studying the microbial ecology of shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC). Results from their first year of research include the discovery of a peptide that may kill STEC in the gut of cattle, thereby reducing shedding;

  • University of Nebraska researchers are engaged in a five-year, $2.5 million grant to study the microbial ecology of shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC). Results from their first year of research indicate that there may be a genetic component that may play a part in whether an animal is a “shedder” of STEC.  If this proves true, it may be possible to exclude this trait from future breeding programs to reduce STEC shedding in herds; and

  • Cornell University is leading a consortium of universities to use a five-year, $2.5 million award to develop food safety education materials for K-12 grades and college level, and has developed a list of core competencies for college-level programs, a food safety Wiki to highlight educational resources in food safety, and a summer research program that focuses on recruiting under-represented minority students into food safety.

The food and agriculture research grant portion of NIFA is funded at $264 million in FY 2012, according to USDA. The program is also funding projects on childhood obesity prevention, global food security, climate variability and sustainable bioenergy. The AFRI challenge areas will continue to support societal challenge areas where research, education, and extension can achieve significant and measurable outcomes.

For more information about these grant opportunities, visit NIFA’s website.