Food research in the United States is chronically underfunded, according to a whitepaper published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). In response, the organization proposes prioritizing federal and private research funding efforts for food with a focus on food science.
“Insufficient funding will likely escalate public health challenges, driven by growing food insecurity, reduced food safety, and increased risk of diet-related preventable chronic diseases,” says Farida Mohamedshah, MS, CNS, a co-author of the whitepaper and the director of nutrition science, food laws, and regulations at IFT.
Furthermore, the report indicates that U.S. leadership in scientific and technological advancement in agriculture and food (AgriFood) will continue to decline, putting the United States behind developed and developing countries such as China and India—which have steadily increased their funding from 1990 to 2013. Since 2010, China’s funding has exceeded budgets of all other countries.
According to the whitepaper, the lack of research funding for AgriFood could negatively impact student enrollment, scientist training, U.S. institutions’ research capabilities, and the viability of U.S. AgriFood as a global leader.
Private versus Public Funding
In 2018, public investment in U.S. AgriFood was $0.1 billion in food and $0.9 billion in agriculture. Private investment, including venture capital, was much higher at $21.6 billion, of which food accounted for $9.9 billion.
The share of public funding for food and agriculture research and development (R&D) dropped from approximately 50 percent in 2008 to less than 30 percent by 2013. This decline, according to the whitepaper, is attributed to a decrease in government spending as well as a rise in private research and development spending. Food research is most disadvantaged, where the federal share of research funding for food science—including food processing, preservation, and other food-related technologies—declined from 10 percent to 4 percent of the total funding for nutrition research between 1985 and 2009.
To address the disparity in funding for food science, Mohamedshah recommends raising awareness of policy and decision makers at national, state, and local levels about the importance of food science research to address current challenges. “Advocate for increasing private funding and identify and encourage opportunities for public-private partnerships,” she says.
Although private funding can help correct the disparity, it isn’t enough, she adds.
Research within the whitepaper indicates that the type of R&D supported by public and private sectors is different. Historically, public R&D funding in the United States has focused on producing new innovations and technologies, while private R&D focuses on developing commercially useful applications. The public sector has been the primary source for much of the basic to applied research that creates the building blocks for major innovations in food and agriculture.
Call to Action
Based on the current funding landscape, IFT strongly advocates for a paradigm shift to drive innovation, feed the talent pipeline, and maintain global competitiveness. The organization proposes three calls to action:
- Increase and prioritize USDA funding for AgriFood research, primarily focusing on food;
- Authorize more federal agencies to fund interdisciplinary food research; and
- Enhance public-private partnerships for AgriFood research, focusing on food research.