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The 2008 Farm Bill: Making an Impact through NIFA

Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health

Poor dietary choices, unhealthy lifestyles, foodborne illnesses, and the potential for terrorism and other attacks on the U.S. food supply are national concerns. NIFA-funded programs and our national program leadership help strengthen the nation’s ability to address and reduce the negative effects of these issues as well as issues related to food security and food science and technology.


Food safety

Each year, millions of Americans suffer—and 5,000 die—from foodborne illness. The food safety programs that NIFA supports reduce the incidence of foodborne illness by funding research to understand disease-causing micro-organisms, toxins, and chemical contaminants in food. This broad area ranges from on-farm production to postharvest processing and distribution, to food preparation and consumption. Some of these food safety projects involve research into using thermal and high pressure (hydro static) processing, the irradiation of foods to reduce microbial contamination, and antibiotic resistance management.


NIFA works with the Cooperative Extension Service to provide community-based nutrition education so people can make better food and lifestyle choices. These projects also provide policymakers with the information they need to make appropriate decisions.

Health and wellness

NIFA-funded programs address the health issues of agriculture, community and economic vitality, and family and youth development.

Hunger and food security

NIFA’s programs and partnerships help ensure that people have access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life. At the community level, these programs address federal food assistance, food recovery and donations, and community food production and marketing.

Obesity and healthy weight

Reports show that two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Through land-grant university partnerships, NIFA-funded programs provide nutrition education; conduct behavioral research; and plan, conduct, and evaluate dietary interventions.


Extension education improves health while saving Virginia $2.4m

In 2011, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) agents trained over 1,000 food handlers across the state in 34 manager certification courses, 24 employee food safety certification courses, and 34 general safe food handling and preparation courses. Additionally, over 459 restaurants, schools, day care centers, churches, civic groups, public service organizations, and other groups sent individuals to VCE to complete  food safety training. If one case of foodborne illness is prevented per food handler who completed food safety training through VCE, the potential annual savings for Virginia is approximately $2.4 million.

Illinois research increases vegetable safety

University of Illinois scientists  combined ultrasound  and chlorine washing treatments to reduce the number of E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria on spinach by 99.99 percent, while other technologies  achieve only about a 99-percent reduction. Industry is looking for a kill step—a way to remove pathogens—while processing fresh fruits and vegetables, including salads. This approach reduces  contamination and enhances safety while preserving the freshness of the produce.

Langston University program increases urban food security and nutrition

1890 Capacity-Building Grants strengthen research, teaching, and Cooperative eXtension programs at the 1890 land-grant universities. Since 2008, the program has awarded 298 grants ($84,107,793) to the 18 eligible universities. At Oklahoma’s Langston University, a grant is addressing food insecurity and poor nutrition in urban areas. Urban agriculture has become a high priority for health care organizations, nutrition planners, and policymakers as a means to prevent diet-related diseases and obesity. Langston’s program established an urban teachers institute, Farm-to-School programs, 4-H nutrition summer camps, and school garden projects.

Health care + education: prevent foodborne illness in seniors

A Tennessee State University research project has developed an innovative approach for integrating food safety education into preventive health care for adults over 60. This project works with health care providers to develop, evaluate, and deliver food safety educational materials for older adults. A website was developed for nurses and caregivers with information on food safety that can be printed off and used for short lessons or as handouts.

The website received over 11,000 hits in 6 months with over 3,000 pages printed. Online material included 72 recipes with food safety hints.

Focusing on foodborne threats before they become U.S. public health issues

E. coli O104:H4 is a newly recognized strain of bacteria that was responsible for over 30 foodborne illness related deaths in Germany in 2011. While this strain has not yet caused foodborne illness in the United States, it caused 20 percent more deaths worldwide than other strains of E. coli.

Researchers at Michigan State University are investigating why this strain causes such severe illness and effective strategies for preventing them. Also, researchers at the University of Nebraska and Kansas State University are evaluating the ability of the German strain to infect the gastrointestinal tract of cattle. This NIFA-funded research is critical to understanding the threat of this new strain to public health and the U.S. food supply.

Encouraging healthy habits in rural New York through social media

Residents in New York’s rural areas have greater access  to health promotion information, thanks to the Adopting Healthy Habits project. The Cornell University Cooperative Extension project targets healthy eating habits and increased activity to prevent childhood obesity through awareness, community support, and accessibility using various media sources. Specific outputs  from the project included a media campaign of 30-second public service announcements that feature specific health messages (drinking water instead of sweetened beverages; eating more fruits and vegetables; playing actively with your family) that reached 337,960 households; a half-page ad printed in the local newspaper that reached 44,000 people; a Web-based ad that was viewed 100,000 times; and local radio spots that reached 60,000 listeners. A Facebook link shared with other Cooperative Extension sites around New York State received 1,700 visits in 1 week.

EFNEP provides nutrition education for America’s poorest of the poor

NIFA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) addresses some of our most pervasive societal challenges—hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and obesity—by providing practical, hands-on nutrition education to the poorest of the poor. Each year, EFNEP peer educators teach more than a half million low-income families and youth how to change their behavior toward food. More than 80 percent of EFNEP families report living at or below the poverty threshold, and nearly 70 percent indicate being of minority status.

A 2012 national review of EFNEP data showed that 95 percent of EFNEP graduates improved the quality of their diets, 88 percent improved their nutrition practices, 86 percent stretched their food dollars farther, 66 percent handled their food more safely, and 28 percent increased their physical activity by at least 30 minutes each day.

Childhood obesity prevention program earns Presidential Award

A researcher from Colorado State University won the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her research  in childhood obesity prevention. The “Mighty Moves” project is an 18-week program where preschoolers engage in activities aimed at enhancing gross motor development and increasing structured physical activity opportunities in the classroom. Equally important, the program addressed the physical and nutritional education needs of parents and teachers. The program targeted these “secondary influencers” who are the most direct role models of young children.

Nanoscale science and engineering help detect food safety hazards

The increasingly global nature of agriculture has created  an urgent need for sensors  that can rapidly and reliably detect and identify the source of hazardous agents at all points in the food supply chain. A research  community of 30 scientists and engineers from 21 states is developing nanotechnology-enabled sensors  (nanosensors) for food safety, biosecurity, and other agricultural needs. One example is an integrated  biosensor system for rapid screening of avian influenza in poultry, developed by scientists  at the University of Arkansas and an international, multidisciplinary research  team. A 2001–2002 outbreak of low pathogenic  avian influenza in the United States resulted in the loss of over 4.5 million chickens and turkeys that amounted to about $125 million. worldwide, more than 140 million birds have died or been destroyed  due to avian influenza H5N1, and losses to the poultry industry are in excess of $10 billion worldwide. Nearly 360 people in 16 countries have been infected and died since 2003. The sensor provides an urgently needed detection capability for controlling the spread of avian influenza.

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