Stephanie A. Smith

Since its inception, the Institute of Food Technologists has been committed to food science and technology research. According to the IFT constitution, our purpose is “to support improvement of the food supply and its use through science, technology and education by promoting programs, implementing proposals and providing guidance in communications, education, professional status, research and international relations.”

While the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are benefiting from organized efforts to increase funding of their research and development programs, federal funding of agricultural and food R&D programs, primarily through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, are floundering. IFT has an opportunity to help change this.

How much is the United States spending on R&D, and where is it coming from? The most recent and complete information available is data analyzed by NSF in its National Patterns of R&D Resources: 2000 Data Update. In 2000, the U.S. spent a total of $265 billion on R&D, about 2.7% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Of the total, $181 billion (68%) was paid for by industry, $70 billion (26%) by the federal government, and the balance (6%) by colleges and universities, including state and local government funds, and nonprofit institutions. The fiscal year 2002 estimate puts total federal funding of R&D at about $103 billion, of which about $2.3 billion will fund agricultural research, according to the Office of Management and Budget’s Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2003. While it is difficult to estimate federal spending on “food science and technology” research, given the information available, a rough approximation by Ohio State University’s Grant Office in its USDA Report 2001 puts it at about $200 million. For the period 1997–99, total expenditures for industrial R&D by the food industry averaged $1.2 billion per year, according to NSF.

Who is doing R&D, and what type of R&D is being done? The share of total U.S. R&D performed in 2000 was 74% by industry, 11% by colleges and universities, 7% by the federal government, and 7% by nonprofits and federally funded R&D centers. The “character of work” conducted with those funds was categorized as 18% basic research, 21% applied research, and 61% development. This is not surprising considering that two-thirds of U.S. R&D is paid for by the private sector and three-quarters of U.S. R&D is conducted by the private sector. Based on the available figures, the situation seems as disparate for total U.S. food science and technology R&D.

Implications. The current funding reality is one of too little investment in basic and applied research, foreboding a dearth of significant advances in coming decades. As an advocate for science-based food policies, it is appropriate and necessary that IFT actively support an increase in federal funding of agricultural and food science and technology R&D as well as a sustained industrial commitment, so that knowledge is available to address emerging challenges and the U.S. can maintain a safe, healthy, diverse, and affordable food supply.

IFT Task Force on Research Enhancement. In October 2000, IFT President Mary Schmidl formed the IFT Task Force on Strategies for Research Enhancement of Food Science and Technology to develop strategies to increase funding of food-related research. In June of this year, the IFT Executive Committee accepted the final recommendation of the task force and assigned the responsibility for further development and implementation of these recommendations to a newly created subcommittee of the IFT Committee on Science, Communications, and Government Relations (CSCGR).

Two of the task force strategies address federal funding of food science and technology R&D. First, IFT, in a proposed new role serving as an “honest broker,” could develop and coordinate industry collaborative research projects based on challenges identified by food companies and common to the food industry. Using this approach, research projects too complicated or costly for individual companies could be supported by multiple companies. Depending on the specific project, cooperative mechanisms may be explored to leverage industry dollars by involving government and/or academia in conducting the research and government and/or foundations in helping fund the research.

Second, IFT can benefit greatly by continuing to participate in Washington, D.C.–based research-funding coalitions. Broad-based coalitions that successfully deliver a unified message are much more likely to capture the attention of decision makers and thereby achieve their goal. By working with other organizations focused on the common goal of increasing federal funding of food and agricultural research, IFT can leverage its limited human and financial resources. As the society for food science and technology, with members working in industry, academia, and government, IFT is uniquely qualified to advocate for increased federal funding of agricultural and food science and technology R&D.

Director, Dept. of Science and Government Relations

In This Article

  1. Food Product Development