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USDA Releases Requests for Applications for the AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area

Media Contact: Tracy Havermann (202) 720-5369

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has released requests for applications (RFA) to support improving the safety of the food supply and reducing food-borne illnesses in the United States through research, education and extension. NIFA plans to award $5 million in grants in fiscal year 2012 to support the food safety challenge area within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program, established under the 2008 Farm Bill.

“USDA is committed to supporting research that improves the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA. “Ensuring the safety of food is a top priority for USDA, and we will continue to work with our public and private sector partners on developing solutions to decrease potential risks.”

The long-term goal of USDA-sponsored food safety research is to reduce food-borne hazards by improving the safety of the food supply, which will result in reduced negative impacts on public health and on our economy. This year’s funding is focused on promoting and enhancing the scientific discipline of food safety, with an overall aim of protecting consumers from microbial, chemical and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption. This requires an understanding of the interdependencies of human, animal and ecosystem health as it pertains to food-borne hazards. Each application will go through a competitive selection process based on scientific merit and be reviewed by an external panel of peer reviewers. 

Previous NIFA-funded food safety projects include:

  • Researchers at Cornell University used a $455,000 grant to create DNA-based “nanobarcodes” that can play a major role in food safety by tracking bacteria to detect pathogens and toxins;
  • University of Nebraska researchers used a grant of $953,735 to develop a tool that helps determine when and where food-borne pathogens enter cattle feedlots;
  • A grant of $399,398 to Arizona State University has produced vaccines that are currently being evaluated for their ability to protect chickens from Salmonella and E. coli, which will result in chicken meat being safer for human consumption;
  • University of Washington, supported by a five-year, $2.5 million grant, is studying the microbial ecology of shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC). Results from their first year of research include the discovery of a peptide that may kill STEC in the gut of cattle, thereby reducing shedding;
  • University of Nebraska researchers are engaged in a five-year, $2.5 million grant to study the microbial ecology of shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC). Results from their first year of research indicate that there may be a genetic component that may play a part in whether an animal is a “shedder” of STEC.  If this proves true, it may be possible to exclude this trait from future breeding programs to reduce STEC shedding in herds; and
  • Cornell University is leading a consortium of universities to use a five-year, $2.5 million award to develop food safety education materials for K–12 grades and college level, and has developed a list of core competencies for college-level programs, a food safety Wiki to highlight educational resources in food safety, and a summer research program that focuses on recruiting under-represented minority students into food safety.

AFRI is funded at $264 million in FY 2012. Additionally, AFRI will make awards in four other challenge areas—childhood obesity prevention, global food security, climate variability and sustainable bioenergy—and through the foundational and fellowship programs. The AFRI challenge areas will continue to support societal challenge areas where research, education, and extension can achieve significant and measurable outcomes.

All AFRI program information, including the RFAs, is available online. NIFA will post a series of webinars focused on the individual RFAs to provide an overview of the program areas. Visit for more information.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and Extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at:



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