KAREN BANASIAK

Team to study cassava
Ohio State University will lead an interdisciplinary team of scientists in a multi-million-dollar project to help improve cassava, one of the most important food crops in Africa.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation selected the BioCassava Plus project as a recipient of one of the foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health program grants, which funds innovative solutions to global health problems.

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is the primary food source for more than 250 million Africans—about 40% of the continent’s population—and about 600 million people worldwide. It is the fourth-most-important crop in the tropics and is relatively easy to grow in drought conditions—fully grown cassava roots can stay in the ground for up to two years and need little water to survive. The roots are a key source of carbohydrates for subsistence farmers in Africa.

Despite its benefits, cassava’s roots are low in protein and also deficient in several micronutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin A. And once the roots are harvested, certain strains of cassava can produce potentially toxic levels of cyanogens, substances that induce production of cyanide. The plant is also susceptible to geminivirus, a devastating plant virus that can destroy up to 60% of a cassava crop.

Richard Sayre, Professor of Plant and Molecular Biology at Ohio State University, will lead the team, which consists of 18 scientists from 10 research institutions around the world. "The Gates Foundation mandated that we provide complete nutrition in a single crop species," Sayre said. "We hope to achieve each individual goal—to reduce cyanide content, reduce deterioration after harvesting, and increase virus resistance." The team hopes to bring all of these traits together into one variety of cassava.

FAO appeals for funding for Niger
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has renewed its appeal for $4 million for emergency agricultural assistance to respond to the ongoing food crisis in Niger, Africa.

Funds are needed to provide veterinary services and feed for livestock, which play a key role in the livelihood and food security for many households in the country. Assistance is needed for more than 10,000 families who have lost their animals and to provide crop seeds for the next planting season starting next month to help about 95,000 vulnerable households. Without this assistance, FAO warns that the crisis could worsen and more food aid would be needed.

"Livestock are crucial to agro-pastoralist families in Niger for income as well as food," said Fernanda Guerrieri, Chief of FAO’s Emergency Operations Service. "The sale of livestock is often a measure of last resort, after families have already consumed all of their cereal stocks and require cash to buy food for the lean period before the next harvest." The loss of livestock or a decrease in the market value can adversely affect families’ food security.

Drought and the 2004 desert locust invasion led to a poor harvest last October. This and an economic crisis and sharply higher food prices have all helped to exacerbate the food crisis in Niger. FAO estimates that 2.5 million people, including about 800,000 children, are at risk of food shortage. Cases of severe child malnutrition, which already affects about 150,000 children, are growing.

Gupta wins World Food Prize
Modadugu V. Gupta has won the 2005 World Food Prize for his work to enhance nutrition for more than one million people, mostly very poor women, through the expansion of aquaculture and fish farming in South and Southeast Asia and Africa.

He received this honor, known as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture," for his three decades of work at the World Fish Center, a member of the World Bank’s Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Gupta has pioneered the breeding of carp and other pond fish adaptable to a variety of different environments in rural areas and helped millions of small-holder farmers gain access to innovative aquaculture techniques to produce a vital supply of nutritious food. He developed one-of-a-kind methods of fish farming, requiring little cost while causing no environmental damage in Bangladesh, Laos, and other countries in Southeast Asia. As a result, landless farmers and poor women have turned a million abandoned pools, roadside ditches, seasonally flooded fields, and other bodies of water into mini-factories churning out fish for food and income. Gupta is now working with a growing number of African countries to implement similar measures there.

Gupta is the sixth citizen of India to receive the World Food Prize since its inception in 1986. The prize will be formally presented to Gupta on October 13, 2005 during the World Food Prize International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Visit www.worldfoodprize.org for more information about the symposium and nomination forms for the next World Food Prize.

Nutrient database for 13,000 foods
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has launched a free Web site where users can view a 60-nutrient profile for each of more than 13,000 foods. The resource, What’s in the Foods You Eat—Search Tool, was produced by nutritionists with the ARS Food Surveys Research Group and will provide information on the nutrient values in typically consumed foods to help consumers make more informed food choices. The computer search program generates a customized table showing 60 different nutrient values for up to three portion amounts. Visit www.ars.gov/foodsearch for more information.

‘Serving size’ tops food formulators’ concerns
Portion or serving size is on the minds of many food formulators and scientists, according to a recent online survey by Food Technology magazine and IFT.

The one-question survey, published in the July issue, asked readers and members, "Once the trans fat issue is resolved or diminished, what will be the biggest area of concern for food product developers and scientists?" The multiple-choice answers included antibiotics/hormones in meat, calories, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), non-nutritive sweeteners, nutritive sweeteners, pesticides, serving or portion size, sodium, and other (please specify).

About 19% of the 505 respondents checked serving or portion size. In April 2005, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Products that Can Reasonably be Consumed at One Eating Occasion. FDA is asking for comments on whether it should require that packaged foods typically eaten in a single occasion state the nutrition information for the entire contents of the package. Under the proposal, a 20-oz soft drink bottle would have to list the total amounts of its nutritional content (e.g., calories) on the label.

GMOs was the second most popular selection at 16.2%, followed by calories at 13.5%, and antibiotics/hormones at 11.7%. More than 14% checked other and specified their answer. The top write-ins included glycemic index, allergens, and functional foods.

Initiative to protect food supply
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, and Federal Bureau of Investigation have announced a new collaboration with states and private industry to protect the nation’s food supply from terrorist threats.

The Strategic Partnership Program Agroterrorism Initiative supports President George W. Bush’s requirements directing the government to work closely with states and industry to secure the nation’s food supply. Four pilot visits will be conducted this month and in October to assess and identify vulnerabilities in the agriculture and food sectors.

Next year, officials will travel to all 50 states to meet with representatives of all sectors of the food chain. The federal, state, and private industry partners will discuss security issues from farm to table and consider ways to better protect the nation’s food supply.

Information can be found on USDA’s Web site at www.usda.gov/homelandsecurity, FDA’s Web site at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/bioterrorism.html, and DHS’s Web site at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=43&content=3802.

For more information on food defense, see the article "Defending the Food Supply" in the August 2005 issue of Food Technology, which reports on IFT’s Research Summit, "Food Defense Pertaining to Potential Intentional Contamination." IFT will also hold its 1st Annual Food Protection and Defense Research Conference in Atlanta, Ga., on November 3–4, 2005. Information is available at www.ift.org.

Models predict pathogen behavior
Newly developed computer models that more accurately predict the growth of food pathogens are now available online from USDA/ARS. These models gauge how pathogens are affected by competition from other food microbes, thereby allowing them to make better predictions about food safety.

This emerging field, called predictive microbiology, estimates the behavior of foodborne pathogens in response to environmental conditions encountered in food production and processing operations.

Models were often developed by studying pathogens in broth with no other microbes present. Scientists thought that this would allow them to accurately predict pathogen behavior in food, which is not always the case because these models do not consider competing microorganisms in real-life situations.

ARS food technologists are modeling the growth and survival of Salmonella and Campylobacter on chicken. More information is available at www.arserrc.gov/mfs/pathogen.htm.


YOUR OPINION COUNTS
Please participate in our informal online survey of topical issues of interest to food formulators, technologists, and scientists. To answer the question below, please go to www.ift.org

Q: What do you think will have the greatest impact on reducing the incidence of childhood obesity? (Please check only one box.)

Reformulating products with less fat, sugar, and calories

Public education about healthful eating

Banning sales of "junk" food in schools

Greater parental oversight of children’s diets

Regulating food advertising and marketing to children

Other (please specify below)

The single-question survey will be posted on www.ift.org for approximately 2 weeks after the issue is distributed. The poll results will appear on our Web site and be published in a future issue of Food Technology. 

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor 
[email protected]