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CPS increases research funds to aid high-risk commodities

by Joan Murphy | June 21, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Center for Produce Safety just increased its budget to $3.5 million to spend on research proposals due July 1 that might solve the most vexing food-safety dilemmas for commodities recently linked to outbreaks.

In May, the center said it had $2 million to spend on research projects. But on June 11, the center announced it was upping the ante to $3.5 million after California officials kicked in more funding.

The California Department of Food & Agriculture and the center signed an agreement in April to enhance the department's food-safety grants process, and the CDFA announced that a portion of its $15 million in specialty crop grants would go to food-safety research.

The new agreement allows the center and the CDFA to collaborate in the review of research projects. The center will assemble a technical review committee to review proposals due this summer and will make recommendations for funding to CDFA, said CPS Executive Director Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli. The center hopes to make its recommendations on the top research projects by Aug. 15, a tight schedule for a grant program, and announce the final winners by mid-September.

Located at the University of California-Davis, the Center for Produce Safety was created as the first government and privately funded produce safety research center with the help of the California Department of Food & Agriculture, the University of California, the Produce Marketing Association and Taylor Farms. The center funds research that can be used by growers, harvesters, shippers and processors to solve critical food-safety problems, optimize processes or create a new basis for future research.

Ms. Fernandez-Fenaroli hopes that the latest research proposals help a variety of commodities to maximize the research dollar. In May, the center said that it would fund research that would affect the produce industry in general but with specific attention paid to commodities that have been associated with illness outbreaks over the past two years, including tomatoes, melons and pistachios.

This year, the center has a list of specific research requests from the California Melon Research Board, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, the California Pistachio Research Board, the Almond Board of California, the California Walnut Commission, the Florida Tomato Committee and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Committee.

The proposals have been impressive, Ms. Fernandez-Fenaroli said, and the center encourages scientists to reach out to industry to understand why these projects could be meaningful to their operations.

The focus of projects is changing as the center evolves. It started with field work, but over time the proposals are "moving down the market chain" to help industry glean more information on produce safety, she said.

The amount of funds available for research is also changing. "We have another $1 million through collaboration with Israel," Ms. Fernandez-Fenaroli said. Research projects will be announced soon from its program in conjunction with the Israel Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund.

In addition to the $1 million doled out last year, the research center could have $5.5 million earmarked for fresh produce research by the end of the year, Ms. Fernandez-Fenaroli added.