National Institute for Food and Agriculture on the horizon

Published on January 01, 2005
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In July 2004, the Secretary of Agriculture's Research, Education, and Economics Task Force published a report that recommended forming a National Institute for Food and Agriculture within the Department of Agriculture, for the purpose of ensuring the technologic superiority of American agriculture. In November, the Executive Board voted to provide support for legislation creating this institute.

Working much like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, NIFA would award competitive, peer-reviewed grants for extramural, basic research. The institute would focus on, among other things, developing foods that combat obesity; improving food safety and food security by battling diseases and bioterrorism; increasing the international competitiveness of American agriculture; improving agricultural productivity of subsistence farmers in developing countries to strengthen national security; and developing bio-based fuels.

The USDA task force recommends that the institute be kept separate and managed differently from existing programs, so it can develop its own culture and establish its own methods of operation. It also recommends that NIFA's mission supplement and enhance, not replace, existing research programs at the USDA.

The National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research, which the AVMA liaises with, supports the creation of NIFA, in addition to the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

During the AVMA Executive Board meeting, some board members raised concerns about whether legislators would divert money for the institute from other USDA projects, but this is not what the task force that recommended NIFA had in mind. "The intent is for it to come from new monies," said Dr. Beth Sabin, assistant director of the AVMA Education and Research Division.

On Nov. 16, 2004, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) introduced S. 3009, the National Food and Agriculture Science Act of 2004, which would establish NIFA within the National Science Foundation. The bill was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee and is expected to stimulate dialogue. "This legislation I am introducing today is a discussion draft, which I hope is going to lay the foundation for tremendous advances in the future," Bond said.

Refined legislation is expected in the 109th Congress.