The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture as a replacement for the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined his vision for NIFA at an Oct. 8 press conference, describing the retooled agency as the USDA's extramural research enterprise with the potential to "transform a field of science."
"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," Vilsack said.
"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 explained.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has its origins in a 2004 government task force report recommending the creation of NIFA to ensure the technologic superiority of American agriculture.
The AVMA supported the initiative (see JAVMA, Jan. 15, 2005, page 174), and Congress eventually authorized the new agency in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.
Through NIFA, the USDA will focus its resources on a number of areas, including improving food safety, keeping U.S. agriculture competitive, and ending childhood obesity.
Vilsack said an in-depth analysis of the USDA's research programs, their goals, and outcomes is under way to better match available resources to critical outcomes for solving national and international agriculture problems.
In addition, the USDA is rebuilding its competitive grants program "from the ground up" to generate real results for the American people, the secretary said.
President Obama named Roger N. Beachy, PhD, of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis to lead NIFA.