National food protection center launched at the U

Molly Moker

For the University, the next step in fighting the war against terrorism won’t include bullets or bombings, but the country’s food supply.

The Department of Homeland Security selected the University as one of three institutions nationwide to look into national security issues by housing the Homeland Security National Center for Post-harvest Food Protection and Defense.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman officially launched the center at a press conference Tuesday at the McNamara alumni center.

“This work at the University of Minnesota will be providing a North Star for the Department of Homeland Security, and the country, to follow toward a safe and secure food supply for all Americans,” Ridge said.

In April, the University announced that the Department of Homeland Security had given it a three-year, $15 million grant to start the center.

Support from institutions is crucial in countering food terrorism, Ridge said.

“Together with participation from local leaders and responsible corporate citizens, these Homeland Security centers will bring the future to bear on the challenges facing our food supply today,” Ridge said.

Frank Busta, professor emeritus of food science and nutrition, will direct the new center.

The center will address concerns such as food contamination prevention, how to detect contamination and how to respond to outbreaks.

It will also provide an academic experience for graduate and postdoctoral students, Busta said.

“It’s one of our key roles to provide an academic setting aimed at research,” he said.

Initially, the center will give research opportunities to approximately 20 graduate and postdoctoral students, he said.

The Department of Homeland Security also chose Texas A&M University and the University of Southern California to lead efforts to improve national security.

University President Bob Bruininks said cooperation from the University’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety will play a crucial role in the center’s research.

Ten out of 11 emerging diseases in humans are transmitted from animals, he said.

The center will give the University many opportunities, Bruininks said.

“Human health research is a tremendous opportunity for students,” he said. “This makes us one of the most important centers of research of food and health in the world.”

Charles Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said the University was chosen to house the center because it has a variety of departments.

Muscoplat said the University’s public health, nutrition, medicine and veterinary medicine departments will all contribute to the center.

In a speech at the conference, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the center is important for Minnesota and the country.

“Today is a good day for the University of Minnesota, and of course it’s a good day for the state of Minnesota as well, but it’s also a somber reminder of how our world and how our country has had to change since that fateful day nearly three years ago,” he said. “Keeping our food chain strong and safe is an important homeland security priority.”

The Department of Homeland Security will begin accepting applications from institutions for a fourth center, Ridge announced at the press conference.

The fourth center will study the behavior of terrorists and the social effects of terrorist threats and attacks.