Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns recently announced that almost $2 million in funding has been redirected to enhance research on bovine spongiform encephalopathy and that $5 million has been awarded to 17 colleges and universities to establish a Food Safety Research and Response Network.
“In a rapidly changing world marketplace, science is the universal language that must guide our rules and policies, rather than subjectivity or politics,” said Johanns. “Expanding our research efforts to improve the understanding of BSE and other food-related illness pathogens will strengthen the security of our nation's food supply. These projects will help improve food safety by enhancing our research partnerships with the academic community and establish another tool to aid our response to food-related disease outbreaks.”
Johanns made the announcement during keynote remarks at the National Restaurant Association's Food Safety Summit. The BSE research funds, redirected by USDA's Agricultural Research Service, will be used for new BSE projects and facilities and build upon President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal, which would increase BSE research by $7.3 million or 155 percent over 2005 funding levels. The newly funded projects include international collaborations with the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in Great Britain to study the biology of the BSE agent, the Italian BSE Reference Laboratory to evaluate present diagnostic tools for detecting atypical BSE cases and the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to compare North American and European BSE strains.
About $750,000 will go toward a biocontainment facility now under construction at the ARS National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa. These facilities will eventually allow the long-term study of BSE infection in cattle and other large animals, which can take a decade or more.
USDA's Agricultural Research Service has been a leader in research on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) such as scrapie, which affects sheep, and chronic wasting disease in deer. ARS developed the immunohistochemistry test that is currently used as the gold standard in the United States to confirm a diagnosis of BSE. ARS has an annual budget of nearly $10 million for TSE research and 15 scientists involved in the research, primarily in Ames; Pullman, Wash., and Albany, Calif.
The Food Safety Research and Response Network, spearheaded by North Carolina State University, will include a team of more than 50 food safety experts from 18 colleges and universities who will investigate several of the most prevalent food-related illness pathogens. Pathogens like E.coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter will be studied to determine where they are found in the environment, how they are sustained and how they infect herds. This team of researchers brings a broad range of expertise to tackle these persistent research challenges.
The group also will serve as a response team that can be mobilized to conduct focused research to control major episodes of food-related illnesses. Episodes could include investigation of health problems associated with agricultural bioterrorism and the deliberate contamination of agricultural commodities. USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (provided funding for the award.