Earlier this year, IFT released a white paper calling for a paradigm shift to drive innovation in agriculture and food (AgriFood) to address the challenges across the food system, feed the talent pipeline, and maintain global competitiveness. Specifically, IFT identified the critical need to increase and prioritize USDA’s funding for AgriFood research, authorize additional federal agencies to fund interdisciplinary research in food, and enhance public-private partnerships for AgriFood research, with a focus on food.
Following efforts to raise awareness among policymakers about the importance of funding food science research, in addition to collaborative efforts to increase funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), IFT is pleased to see an increase in research funding for AFRI, particularly given the budgetary constraints due to the COVID-19 crisis. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funds extramural competitive grants through AFRI. The AFRI Foundational and Applied Science Program supports grants in six AFRI priority areas, including Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health, to advance knowledge in both fundamental and applied sciences important to agriculture. With funding allocated for the Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health priority area at $39 million for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years compared with $26.2 million for 2019 and 2020, there is an opportunity for more proposals to be funded in these critical areas.
In 2018, the U.S. AgriFood industries contributed $5.08 trillion or 24.8 percent of combined GDP, with $137 billion (5.4 percent) in exports and $146.5 billion (4.7 percent) in imports. AgriFood accounted for 22.8 million jobs (14.2 percent), with food contributing 20.7 million of those jobs. Despite these significant contributions to the U.S. economy, AgriFood research has consistently been underfunded since 2008.
Private investment (including venture capital) in AgriFood research and development was $21.6 billion in 2018, of which food accounted for $9.9 billion. While this was significantly higher than public investment at $0.1 billion and $0.9 billion in food and agriculture, respectively, it still pales in comparison to other industries (e.g., pharmaceutical), and is simply not enough. The increase in funding allocation for the Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health priority area for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, although small relative to other program areas, is a promising step in the right direction.
Food is essential to life. Innovation, research, and social awareness are critical for providing safe, nutritious, and affordable food to all. Our food system is facing serious global challenges and undergoing transformative changes to keep up with evolving demand and is in need of increased innovations for long-term sustainable solutions. Population growth and its demands on global food supply and trade; evolving consumer needs and dietary patterns to improve health; and climate, environmental, and other stressors that threaten food security are significant challenges requiring interdisciplinary research and technological advancement. The onset of COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, revealing additional vulnerabilities in the food supply chain. This has further demonstrated the need for greater public investment in research, education, and extension to better understand, address, and communicate the challenges and opportunities across the food system.
IFT members are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to fund necessary research to advance the science of food. For more information, please visit the AFRI Foundational and Applied Science Program website.
About the Author
Farida Mohamedshahm MS, CNS is director of nutrition science, food laws and regulations at IFT.
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