By Wendy Powers-Schilling, ASAS Public Policy Committee
March 28, 2016 – The recent release of the “Healthy Food Systems, Healthy People” initiative by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) sets an agenda that is summarized by 5 goals: 1) Realign research and education approaches using a “systems thinking” model that treats human health as an interdisciplinary issue; 2) Identify the drivers of consumer behavior in relation to chronic disease and examine how information can be used to help consumers make better decisions; 3) Better understand the complex interrelationships of the food-human-gut-microbiome and its role in human health; 4) Broaden the definition of food quality to include the promotion of human health; and 5) Improve the lab-to-community pipeline to facilitate the dissemination of new knowledge that medical, public health, education, and Cooperative Extension professionals can use to promote human health and ameliorate the burden of chronic disease.
Focusing on the first goal, there is clearly an emphasis within land grant universities on taking a more systems-based approach to food production to include the human health implications. This means better integration between Extension efforts directed toward agriculture production and those directed toward human health, e.g. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and greater funding for research, Extension and education programming represents a collaboration between agriculture colleges and colleges of medicine and public health. This approach is consistent with ASAS policy statements.
The APLU report lays out an objective for enhanced partnering across sectors with an outcome of greater support for interdisciplinary teams. An additional objective identifies a reallocation of USDA-NIFA competitive and/or capacity funds to support integrated approaches to human health priorities. Both suggest a greater focus of traditional agriculture production work that clearly connects to human health impact. When considered in the context of proposed research budgets for FY17 (Please see the graphic below) it is imperative that animal scientists think differently about our work in order to maintain funding for laboratories and programs. As important as animal protein and products are in the global environment, it is hard to imagine that USDA research dollars are less than half that of any other agency, and less than 2 percent of the total R&D budget. Efforts to increase USDA-NIFA funding may have been beneficial but funding still pales in comparison to that available from other agencies. In order to take advantage of where funding is directed, one may need to re-think how they propose traditional production research and programming such that it conveys value and relevance to health directives, thus opening opportunities to sources of funding beyond USDA-NIFA.