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Budget Cuts Affecting the Future of Food Science

While it has recently been reported that enrollment is up in food science departments across the United States, it is also a fact that budget cuts are seriously affecting the food science programs at universities. The funding bases to support research are decreasing from all of the traditional sources. Why is this important to IFT members and food science/technology professionals? It is important because the entire base for educating the next generation of Food Science B.S. entry-level employees is tied to universities being successful in recruiting and retaining faculty who will be teaching and mentoring these students. In order to retain faculty at universities, success in garnering external funding is critical to promotion. Without receipt of research funding, our assistant professors will not be promoted and new Ph.D. and postdoctorals will be discouraged in following the academic career pathway.

Funding resources have decreased on all fronts. State funding to public institutions, and particularly to land grant institutions that house all our food science departments, has declined precipitously over the past 10 years. In Iowa, state appropriations to Iowa State University have decreased by 41% of state tax revenues in the past 10 years, decreasing well before the current recession occurred. Other land grant universities are experiencing similar or more severe cuts.

At the same time, the main supporter of food science research, the USDA National Institute for Food & Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) eliminated nearly all food science areas from the 2010 request for proposals. The 2011 proposal areas do include a few food science areas but of a much narrower scope than previously under the USDA’s National Research Initiative that IFT lobbied for successfully. Additionally, AFRI proposal opportunities now are only offered for one year in contrast to previous years where topics were available for three or more years. In the current situation, you can write a grant proposal but if you are in the 90% who are not successful, you are out of luck as there is no opportunity to reapply. Other agencies such as NIH and NSF offer multiple years to apply for research funds under a single topic as well as multiple times per year. In contrast, USDA is a “one and done” grant opportunity system right now.

The amount of funding has remained appallingly low in comparison to other disciplines. Total funding dollars associated with the entire USDA competitive grants program equal less than 5% of funds appropriated for NIH. On April 13, in the budget compromise of Congress and the President, we learned that NIFA funds will be cut by 48% in this year’s budget!

Lastly, most Colleges of Agriculture, where most food science departments reside, are being squeezed with declining appropriations from their state and federal partners. Support of graduate assistants at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was zeroed out last year due to budget cuts. This research environment does not suggest successful careers to food science academics, who are supposed to be educating the next generation of food scientists. IFT and its members must continue to lobby to educate USDA NIFA on the critical need for food science research funding, with the emphasis on food.

Patricia A. Murphy
Iowa State University

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