National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Nov 23, 2009

Last month, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The institute will be the research arm of the USDA. Secretary Vilsack began his speech by saying,

"The opportunity to truly transform a field of science happens at best once a generation. Right now, I am convinced, is USDA's opportunity to work with the Congress, the other science agencies, and with our partners in industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector, to bring about transformative change. We can build on recent scientific discoveries - incredible advances in sequencing plant and animal genomes, for example. We have new and powerful tools -- biotechnology, nanotechnology, and large-scale computer simulations -- applicable to all types of agriculture.”

He outlined what the USDA focus of resources will be to accomplish the hoped for outcomes to improve human health and protecting the environment. They are:

  • USDA science will support our ability to keep American agriculture competitive while ending world hunger. At a time when disruptive climate change threatens production of some of the world's staple foods, some of the biggest gains we can make in ending world hunger will involve development of stress-resistant crops.
  • USDA science will support our ability to improve nutrition and end child obesity. At USDA we want to take the nutrition and food choice insights we have gained from our science to test out some new approaches to school lunches, breakfast and our other nutrition assistance and education programs.
  • USDA science will support our efforts to radically improve food safety for all Americans. Each year in the U.S. alone, food-borne pathogens like E. coli kill 5,000 people and sicken 75 million more; the cost to the economy from these infections exceeds $35 billion.
  • USDA science will secure America's energy future. President Obama has set ambitious but achievable goals for securing America's energy future from new domestic sources, including 60 billion gallons a year from biofuels by 2030. We plan to focus specifically on rapidly improving the amount and quality of plant-based feedstocks that will be the source of biofuels.
  • USDA science will make us better stewards of America's environment and natural resources. We believe that research in this priority area will identify agricultural operations in the United States that, within 10 years, will be net carbon sinks.

Secretary Vilsack ended his speech by saying, "I am asking today for a commitment of will and energy to bring about our generation's new era of agricultural science. I look forward to charting a course together to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery in the agricultural sciences, speed the application of new knowledge to address challenges facing US and global food and agriculture, and translate new knowledge into tangible benefits for the American people and the world."

The speech can be read on the USDA’s website.