Earlier this month, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture of the USDA, announced that the USDA is providing more than $30 million in competitive grants to fund 80 research projects. The grants are available thanks to the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The AFRI is the U.S.’s leading peer-reviewed grant program for agricultural sciences. The AFRI grants go towards supporting research in multiple areas, although the nature of the projects that were recently funded is aimed to improve food safety, specifically on increasing the resilience of plants and the reduction of antibiotic resistance in foods. There were around $15 million allocated towards these two causes, and there are about $3.4 million dedicated to enhancing antimicrobial resistance while keeping the food safe and nutritious. It is very important that there are steps taken towards the improvement of the safety of produce. A very controversial topic that often arises when talking about improving the hardiness of plants for consumption is the extensive use of chemicals, which can be deposited within the plant and later consumed in small amounts by a person. These chemicals, when consume by humans, have adverse effects on the body, some fatal in the long run. It truly is good news for the general public that the USDA is investing in researching the production of plants that are stronger, since that means they require less toxic chemicals, or at least smaller quantities of them.
The development of strong and healthy plants is an important area to address, and while this is a good and positive change, there are still areas of the produce industry that require improvement. For example, a particular area that requires much more attention is the workplace of the farmworkers. This includes treatment, salary, and poor living conditions. Yes, many advancements have been made in this matter, yet there are still many people who are oppressed and persecuted. While the USDA does not deal with this particular issue directly, it would be good see the government fund programs that help the farmworkers’ difficult situation. Many of these programs lack significant backing and support, although their efforts make a huge impact in the lives of the workers. It’s hard to address the whole system’s problems, yet small steps must be taken in the right direction in order to see progress. For now, a significant step has been taken with the recent funding for research. Who knows? Maybe a revolutionary and innovative change in plant production will be harvested from this investment.