University of Minnesota to lead national effort in food bio-security

04/27/04

Department of Homeland Security awards university-based grants

(MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL) April 27, 2004 – The University of Minnesota has been named one of three U.S. Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence and has received a $15 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help develop ways to protect the nation's food supply from deliberate contamination or terrorist attack.

The university's Center of Excellence, known as the University Center for Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense (PHFPD) is a national consortium of academic, private sector, and government partners including three other universities (Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, and University of Wisconsin–Madison), experts at 12 more universities, independent research facilities, state health and agriculture agencies, professional organizations, and agriculture and food industry companies, and private sector consultants. More than 90 investigators make up the consortium.

"The breadth and depth of food security knowledge we were able to pull together for this effort is unparalleled," says Frank Busta, University of Minnesota's Department of Food Science and Nutrition and principal investigator on the grant.

"The University of Minnesota, with extraordinary strength and expertise in the health, animal and food sciences, is uniquely positioned to develop interdisciplinary collaborations," said President Robert Bruininks. "We're proud to lead this important effort and look forward to working with our partners in academia, public health, industry and government to make our nation's food supply safer."

"This University of Minnesota team includes some of the brightest, most accomplished people in food production and health safety. Their recognition as a Homeland Security Center of Excellence is well deserved. I know they will make fine contributions to the protection of our national food supply," said Congressman Martin Sabo. Congressman Sabo is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which allocates funding for and conducts oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Research Goals

The U.S. food system--from farms to processing and distribution to retail food service--presents an array of vulnerable targets for terrorist attack. Intentional contamination of agricultural or food products with biological, chemical, or radiological agents could lead to potentially devastating effects on human health, as well as major economic losses to a critical sector of the economy. Historically, efforts to protect the food supply have focused primarily on preventing and reducing accidental contamination by naturally occurring agents.

"The need to protect against potential deliberate contamination now creates a demand for enhanced capabilities to anticipate, prevent, respond quickly to, and minimize the impact of such attacks," said Michael T. Osterholm, co-principal investigator and director of the University's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "This places great importance on federal, state, and local governments and the private sector to coordinate and integrate their biosecurity activities."

One of the major strengths of the proposal lies in a unique farm-to-table private sector industry group that has been collaborating with the University for nearly two years to identify security gaps in the nation's food supply and to develop comprehensive plans to respond to those gaps.

"The University of Minnesota is ideally suited to provide a coordinated effort between academia, government, and the key food and agricultural industry players – including producers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers," said Joel Johnson, C.E.O., Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn. "By working together with industry, as we have in the past on other initiatives, the University will provide excellent leadership in the nation on this counter-terrorism effort."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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