The story of American agriculture is much broader than the crops grown in farm fields, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Agricultural research is helping make safer eggs and creating products with the potential to reduce the risk of cancer. But not enough people are getting that message, he told a group at Ohio State University last week. And that has far-reaching implications.
Vilsack visited Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences on June 28, touring facilities in the Department of Food Science and Technology.
"Many people do not understand the contributions to human health that agricultural research makes," Vilsack said. "But here at Ohio State, there are many vivid examples showcasing the essential role agricultural research plays in solving some of the world's most pressing health problems, all while building and revitalizing rural America."
Vilsack visited the lab of Ahmed Yousef, a microbiologist and professor of food science and technology, where Yousef and post-doctoral researcher Jennifer Perry explained their research on using ozone gas in combination with heat to make in-shell eggs safe and free from Salmonella. The project started 14 years ago through a partnership between Ohio egg farmers and the university, and is now nearing commercialization.
"We want to get more young people excited about this," Vilsack said. "You're detectives. There's mystery and intellectual challenge, intrigue and failure, frustration and triumph all going into this work that makes life exciting. It makes you want to come into work every day. That's not being translated to future generations. We have a lack of people interested in science, math and engineering."
Vilsack also visited the lab of Steve Schwartz, a professor of food science and director of the Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship. He learned about the development of:
* A tomato-soy juice that's rich in lycopene and soy isoflavones that could reduce the occurrence of prostate cancer. The research was funded, in part, by a $1.75 million USDA grant.
* A bread that contains enough soy protein to carry a Food and Drug Administration "heart-healthy" claim and rich enough in isoflavones to be studied for anti-cancer properties.
* A "black-raspberry confection" made from freeze-dried black raspberries that could help reduce the recurrence of oral cancers.
All three products are being used in clinical trials at the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Hospital and Solove Research Institute, said Dr. Steve Clinton, who also helped host Vilsack at the event.