July 14, 2011

Official addresses food-security concerns

Dr. Catherine Woteki

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

After Catherine Woteki, under secretary of the USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area, spoke at the Global Networking Reception this Wednesday, one audience question earned a round of applause.

“What is food security?” asked a child in the audience.

“That is a very good question,” replied Woteki.

Food security, the goal of having a dependable supply of food, is a concern for scientists and policy makers who see global population increasing as available farmland stays the same.

“Given these predictions, food production may have to double by the end of the century,” Woteki said.

Woteki explained that one way to increase food production would be to develop new technologies to improve yields. The problem with that plan is the drop in federal funding for research and development.

Woteki doesn’t see much hope in Congress’s debate over the budget.

“This is not a usual budget year,” she said. “I wish I could come here and tell you it looks good. But it doesn’t”

According to Woteki, private investments count for half of research development funding in the U.S. She said that while private companies are good at producing new technologies, many don’t focus on the goal of training new scientists.

“That’s a particular concern of mine that we have a pipeline of well-trained scientists,” Woteki said.

Woteki emphasized the importance of land grant universities in training new animal scientists. She’s working right now with the Agency for International Development on a “Feed the Future” program.

Woteki acknowledged that there are no quick answers to the question of food security, but said that agricultural education is important.

“I really appreciate your being part of this endeavor,” she said.