U gets $15M for food security

The Department of Homeland Security will fund the research to plan for attacks on the U.S. food supply.

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

The Department of Homeland Security awarded $15 million to the University on Tuesday to help protect the nation’s food supply from deliberate contamination or terrorist attack.

The three-year grant will go toward establishing one of three nationwide “Homeland Security Centers of Excellence” to deal with food safety.

The University Center for Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense will address post-harvest food protection and what to do in the event of contamination, according to the department.

“It is not difficult to contaminate the nation’s food supply today,” said Charles Muscoplat, dean of the University’s College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences.

“Many poisons are not killed by pasteurization,” he said, citing milk production as a potential target. “You could essentially expose a quarter million people to botulism with 50 grams.”

The other two schools to serve as hubs for the centers are Texas A&M University and the University of Southern California.

Texas A&M University will address animal-born diseases such as avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease.

The University of Southern California will analyze broad risks to the U.S. food supply.

Minnesota Rep. Martin Sabo is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Sabo said the University was a solid choice for one of the centers.

“This University of Minnesota team includes some of the brightest, most accomplished people in food production and health safety,” Sabo said.

The center will bring together a consortium of academic, private sector and governmental partners, and be composed of more than 90 investigators.

The University was chosen because of its broad resources and capabilities for dealing with threats to the U.S. food supply, homeland security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said.

“They supplied a phenomenal proposal,” Petrovich said. “Our reviewers were incredibly impressed.”

According to its Web site, the Department of Homeland Security plans to establish additional centers across a gamut of research fields in the coming year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is proud and glad the University received this designation, said Daniel Wolter, the governor’s communications director.

“We have a strong agricultural industry, and threats to agro security are bigger threats to us,” Wolter said. “They are a nation-leading institution in this area.”

University President Bob Bruininks said the center will address contamination prevention, how to detect contamination and how to respond in the event of an outbreak.

However, he said he was not the most formidable authority on the subject.

“You are talking about some of the most complex chemistry issues with a psychologist,” Bruininks said.