USDA Launches National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

Recent appointments of individuals with close connections to agricultural giant Monsanto to two major posts at the USDA have caused concern among many sustainable agriculture and food system advocates. The following Press Release details the new vision for scientific research at the USDA under one of these appointees, Roger N. Beachy. USDA Release number 0501.09: from http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/10/0501.xml "AGRICULTURE SECRETARY VILSACK LAUNCHES NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, ANNOUNCES VISION FOR SCIENCE AND RESEARCH AT USDA Agricultural Science Poised to Make Major Contributions to Health, Environmental Challenges WASHINGTON, October 8, 2009 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) with a major speech regarding the role of science and research at USDA. At an event at the National Press Club with John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Vilsack outlined his vision for addressing the some of the world's major challenges over the coming decades: Below are excerpts from Vilsack's prepared remarks:

“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.

“These discoveries and tools come not a moment too soon. The United Nations’
Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that food production will need to
double by 2050 to meet demand, and this has to happen in an environment where
our production system already is under threat. For every one degree increase in
temperature from global warming, we expect a 10 percent drop in yields. Water
is in increasingly short supply in the U.S. and abroad for drinking, for
irrigation, and for livestock production. Climate change already is disrupting
farming and grazing patterns and food production, and not just overseas — many
sectors of the U.S. agricultural economy are exceptionally vulnerable to
climate stress.

“USDA science needs to change to respond to these pressures, to ensure the
sustainability of the American food, fuel, and fiber system and to address some
of America’s – and the world’s — most intractable problems. Ultimately – our
success in science has to be matched by impact in society. Already [Under
Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics Raj Shah] has begun an in-depth
and systematic analysis of our research programs, their goals, and their
outcomes to help me better match available resources to critical outcomes for
solving national and international problems.

“Formed in the main from the existing Cooperative State Research, Education,
and Extension Service, NIFA will be the Department’s extramural research
enterprise. It is no exaggeration to say that NIFA will be a research
“start-up” company – we will be rebuilding our competitive grants program from
the ground up to generate real results for the American people. To lead NIFA,
President Obama has tapped a preeminent plant scientist from the Danforth Plant
Science Center in St. Louis – Roger N. Beachy, winner of the Wolf Prize in
Agriculture and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I want USDA science to focus most of its resources on accomplishing a few,
bold outcomes with great power to improve human health and protect our
environment:

* 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.

“President Obama this spring pledged to invest more heavily in the nation’s
basic sciences, and to commit as much as 3 percent of America’s GDP to science.
Agricultural science needs to be part of that strategic investment strategy.
Focus, scale, and impact – these are the levers Raj, Roger, and I will use to
launch a new paradigm for the science that underpins our food, agriculture, and
natural resources systems research.

“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.” ‘

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