Food & nutrition

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Baby

Georgieff Co-authors AAP Policy Statement on Infant Nutrition

February 12, 2018

Two University of Minnesota professors have co-authored a major nutrition policy paper on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg of Masonic Children's Hospital and Michael K. Georgieff of the Center for Neurobehavioral Development, a Consortium member, wrote the report on behalf of the AAP's Committee on Nutrition. The article recommends foods that ensure healthy brain development in the first three years of life. It also notes that, while breast milk is preferable for a baby's first six months, after that breastfeeding moms and their partners should supplement infant diets with a variety of foods rich in iron and zinc, including lean meats, fruits and vegetables. An article in MedPage Today outlines the paper's policy recommendations related to major programs such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), all of which are important to ensuring the availability of healthy food options. The authors encourage pediatricians to provide guidance on "informed food choices" and help families connect with nutritional programs such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Prof. Georgieff is a member of the Consortium's Executive Committee

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Genetically modified yeast organism

BioTech Institute Scientists Engineer Self-Destructing GMOs

January 29, 2018

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to help prevent the spread of diseases and increase both crop yields and nutritional value, but according to an article in Science Alert, "There's a big problem. . . . When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate?" Synthetic biologist Maciej Maselko of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member, is leading a team to solve this problem. Prof. Maselko's researchers have used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter yeast microbes so they're genetically incompatible and incapable of mating with their non-GMO counterparts. They call this approach "synthetic incompatability," and it's a technique that could be used in a multitude of ways, including to curb invasive carp or increase the production of medicines derived from plants. Read the entire article here

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UMN Water Resources Center logo

Water Resources Center Receives National Sustainability Grant

November 28, 2017

The Water Resources Center (WRC), a Consortium member, has received a grant of more than $930,000 from the new Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) initiative. INFEWS is jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant will fund research on innovations for sustainable food, energy, and water supplies in intensively cultivated regions, which are necessary because of the need to keep pace with the demands of a growing global population. In this project, researchers from the biophysical, socioeconomic, and computational sciences will investigate two types of innovations using data from the northern US Corn Belt. The lead investigator is Jeffrey Peterson, director of the WRC. 

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World Health Org logo

WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

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Andres Perez

Leadership Change at Center for Animal Health and Food Safety

October 11, 2017

Prof. Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, is the new director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS), an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota. The Center is coordinated by the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is a Consortium member. Perez takes over for Dr. Scott Wells, who is stepping down after serving as director and co-director for the past six years. Prof. Perez joined the College in 2014 and is a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in the prevention and control of food animal diseases. He also holds the Global Animal Health and Food Safety endowed chair. Prof. Perez notes, “CAHFS has been an effective catalyst for lasting change in the animal health and food safety sectors, and I hope to continue that success. . . . The goal is to increase CAHFS’ portfolio in areas such as policy, online education and outreach, quantitative data analysis, aquatic health, and antimicrobial resistance.”

Consortium Faculty

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Image of a computer motherboard in the shape of a padlock

Wake-up Call for Food Companies Focuses on Cyber Security

September 27, 2017

A new article in Food Safety Magazine by a Senior Fellow at the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI), a Consortium member, outlines a worrisome gap in protecting global food #supplychains. John T. Hoffman, a retired military officer, describes significant changes in the food and beverage industry, noting "the food industry has evolved from a manual, hands-on and labor-intensive manufacturing profile to a largely automated environment that exploits a variety of information technologies and industrial controls." However, Hoffman cautions that unlike the financial, insurance, and regulatory sectors, "food sector clients, in which there are substantial investment in terms of money, accountability and rules compliance, have not been required to implement similar [IT] standards." This raises the specter of bad actors using IT systems to attack the food supply, with potentially catastrophic consequences for public health and the economy. FPDI's research and education program is aimed at reducing the potential for contamination at any point along the food supply chain; they collaborate with the Department of Homeland Security to reduce the vulnerability of the nation's food system. To learn more, click here.

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Viewfinder

Registration is Open for Mini Bioethics Academy

September 20, 2017

The Center for Bioethics, a Consortium member, is hosting a three-part Mini Bioethics Academy that will explore issues at the intersection of ethics, science and society. The series kicks off on Oct. 11 with a session on the effect of meaningless work on our health and lives, presented by affiliate faculty member Christopher Michaelson (Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas). On Oct. 18 the topic will be food justice and bioethics, with Michelle Horovitz and Princess Titus (Appetite For Change). The final seminar, on the ethics of environmentally responsible health care, will be held on Oct. 25; the speaker will be affiliate faculty member Andrew Jameton (emeritus, University of Nebraska Medical Center). The Academy is open to anyone interested in learning more about bioethics; attendees can choose to come to all three sessions or select those that are of interest. Learn more and register here

Consortium Faculty

Lecture

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Turkey

Poultry DNA Sequencer a Powerful Tool in Antibiotic Resistance Research

December 21, 2016

A state-of-the-art genetic analysis tool has been deployed to Willmar, Minnesota, the heart of the state's burgeoning turkey business. According to an article in Agweek, beginning in 2017 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing new restrictions that change how livestock producers use antibiotics in feed to promote growth. The action is being taken to address growing concerns that antibiotic resistance could threaten public health. Veterinary science professor Tim Johnson is leading the project, which is housed at the U's Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center. According to Johnson, the DNA sequencer "will improve the speed and the resolution of our ability to detect pathogens of the bad bacteria and the bad viruses" by helping researchers understand how pathogens travel and examining "emerging diseases of poultry and other animals to be able to quickly identify what's causing problems." The Consortium is hosting a three-part series on a related topic, Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, starting on Jan. 24; learn more and register here

News

Ear of corn

GMOs Fail to Deliver Higher Crop Yields, Lower Pesticide Use

November 1, 2016

According to an in-depth article in the New York Times, while "the controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. . . the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." This conclusion is drawn from data comparing the two North American countries to Western Europe, where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have largely been rejected. In fact, during the 20-year period studied, pesticide use increased in the US while in France, the biggest European agriculture producer, it has been reduced. Biotech companies like Monsanto defend their products, saying they can help meet the food needs of an explosively growing global population. However, Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, notes "they still 'haven't found the mythical yield gene.'" Read the entire article here

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Irene Bueno gathering sediment from a river in Chile

Consortium Scholar Sheds New Light on Fish Farms’ Role in Antibiotic Resistance

September 12, 2016

In 2015, Irene Bueno was awarded a Consortium Research Grant to study aquaculture in southern Chile. Dr. Bueno is a doctor of veterinary medicine who is now pursuing her PhD at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, focusing on ecosystem health and emerging problems within the human-wildlife interface. Aquaculture is a major economic activity in Chile, and has been increasingly criticized for the extensive use of antibiotics. Dr. Bueno’s Consortium-funded research illuminates the mechanisms by which antibiotic resistant bacteria (and associated genes) are released from freshwater fish farms into the aquatic ecosystem. An interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Bueno and her advisers, Drs. Randy Singer and Dominic Travis, collaborated with Chilean researchers and governmental officials to sample and analyze antibiotic resistant bacteria in river sediment, wastewater, and to understand the antibiotic use at the farms. Among the project’s outcomes is the development of a model that can be used to assess interventions that mitigate the dissemination of antibiotic resistance from the fish farms into the watershed. Regarding her research, Dr. Bueno notes, “Characterizing the way antibiotic resistant bacteria spreads through this watershed from sources such as fish farms, will help inform decisions related to waste management at the local level. On a broader scale, the data generated will contribute to advancing our knowledge of how antibiotic resistance is disseminated, bringing us a step closer to understanding the potential health consequences for humans, animals, and the ecosystem.” To learn more about our annual Consortium Research Awards, click here

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Bread and cheese

Register for 2016 Healthy Foods Summit: Food, Microbes, and Health

August 25, 2016

Microbes are everywhere in our food system, inhabiting biomes from soil to human, for better or worse. This year's Healthy Foods Summit will be held on Oct. 27-28. On the first, on-campus day, food scientists, microbiologists, and policymakers will present recent research on how these tiny organisms can be better understood and controlled to ensure healthy, safe food for everyone. The second day at the Minnesota Arboretum will be more applied and practical, featuring talks by community farmers, grocery coops, small food business owners and restaurateurs. Early Bird registration fees are available until Sept. 23; student rates are also offered. For a full agenda, locations and to register, visit z.umn.edu/healthyfoods2016

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Sean Sherman, American Indian chef

Focus on American Indian Food and Nutrition

August 18, 2016

A group of chefs and scholars that has been working for decades to restore Native American food traditions is experiencing new momentum. One of them is Sean Sherman, who draws from the indigenous cuisine of Midwestern tribes like the Lakota and Ojibwe, precolonial food cultures that were supported by sophisticated trade routes and intra-tribal cultural exchanges. Mr. Sherman plans to expand his catering business, Sioux Chef, to include a restaurant in Minneapolis that will not only feature Native American foods and bring jobs to the local community, but also serve as a driver for American Indian-owned food businesses like those he uses to supply walleye and wild rice. Want to learn more? On Sept. 26-27, the First Annual Conference on Native American Nutrition will be held in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The event is cosponsored by Consortium member center Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and will bring together tribal officials, researchers, practitioners, and others to discuss the current state of knowledge about Native nutrition and food science. Register here.

News

Model of crystal structure for CRISPR-Cas9

There's More Than One Way to Edit a Gene

August 15, 2016

The gene-editing technique known as CRISPR has generated immense excitement for enabling scientists to alter genomes "with unprecedented precision, efficiency and flexibility," in hopes of accelerating cures for genetic diseases. However, while CRISPR has been receiving the lion's share of attention in the media, a new article in Scientific American outlines its limitations: as researchers have used CRISPR, particularly the Cas9 tool, they've been reminded "how fragile every new technology is," according to George Church of the Harvard Medical School. The article describes several alternatives that researchers hope will offer more precise pathways for rewriting DNA, which plant scientist Daniel Voytas of the University of Minnesota notes is essential to the advancement of the field: “Everyone says the future is editing many genes at a time, and I think: ‘We can’t even do one now with reasonable efficiency.'" Each month seems to bring new advances in the field: read the article, which provides an up-to-date overview of what's happening, here

Conference

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Field of corn

The Unfulfilled Promise of Corn-based Biofuels

July 28, 2016

According to an article in Bloomberg, "More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland – improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year." The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which led to mass production of corn-based ethanol, has proven to be sadly ineffectual; in fact, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation have begun to realize that the use and manufacture of biofuels has had "severe, unintended consequences," partly as a result of the way regulatory regimes were implemented. Despite a political divide between legislators from the Corn Belt and others, a revamped RFS appears to be moving forward in the House of Representatives.  

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FDA logo

FDA Announces Final Rules for New Nutrition Labels

May 20, 2016

Today, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it has finalized the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. The changes include a refreshed design that will make it easier for consumers to spot key information such as number of calories and serving size. Reflecting advances in nutrition science, the label will include more information about added sugars, which have been linked to heart disease and currently make up at least 10% of the average American's diet. Serving sizes have been updated to better approximate the portions people actually eat. The new labels have been 2 years in the making, and represent the most significant changes to the label since it was introduced more than 20 years ago. It's hoped the new format will make it easier for consumers to make better, more informed food choices. 

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Fruits and vegetables

FDA Wrestles with Definition of 'Natural' Food

May 9, 2016

Tomorrow, May 10, marks the end of a comment period established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to gather public input regarding the best way to define what "natural" means in regard to food. This is the third time the federal government has tried to establish such a standard – the first, in 1974, was undertaken by the Federal Trade Commission; the second, in 1991, by the FDA. Those efforts failed, leading to a long period of stasis until 2009, when several lawsuits were brought against food manufacturers who claimed "all natural" ingredients. A post on the National Public Radio website discusses the debate and places it in the context of culinary history. 

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