Food research in the United States is chronically underfunded, according to a new whitepaper by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). If this situation continues, it “will likely risk public health, food safety, food security, and erode the U.S. talent pipeline and global competitiveness.”

Together, agriculture and food represent the third largest direct contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP), but public investment in these sectors is very low (and falling). As a percentage of GDP, in 2018, investment in R&D for food alone was only 1% and just 4.2% for agriculture and food combined.

The authors of the whitepaper identify the following factors as “disrupting market forces and adding new dimensions to the food sector”:

  • Changing consumer demands and dietary patterns
  • Imbalanced food regulations and protection policies
  • Climatic and environmental changes and geopolitical tensions
  • Advancing science and technology
  • Structural changes impacting the traditional CPG business model
  • Increased emphasis on health and wellness

Addressing these factors — while also providing more food to feed the growing population — will require a combination of innovation, research, and social awareness, IFT says.

Based on a survey of its members, the organization identified three priority areas for increased funding:

  1. Public health: To improve the nutritional quality, palatability, and accessibility of food
  2. Food safety and quality: To protect integrity of globalized food chains and digitize food safety and traceability to prevent, manage, and rapidly address critical issues
  3. Food security and sustainability: To increase the quantity and quality of food available, drawing on technology breakthroughs, while reducing food loss and waste

They’re calling on policymakers to:

  • Increase and prioritize USDA’s funding for food and agriculture research, with a primary focus on food
  • Authorize additional federal agencies to fund interdisciplinary research in food
  • Enhance public-private partnerships for food and agriculture research, with a focus on food

Read the whitepaper.