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The research described here was funded in whole, or in part, by the Research, Education and Economics Division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Increased funding for USDA will inevitably result in many more important accomplishments.

 Environment

  • Benefits of Improved Drinking Water Quality.  Nitrates in drinking water, which may come from nitrogen fertilizers applied to crops, are a potential health risk. Economic Research Service research evaluated the potential benefits of reducing human exposure to nitrates in the drinking water supply of four regions studied, the White River Basin of Indiana, Central Nebraska, Lower Susquehanna, and the Mid-Columbia Basin in Washington. The estimated benefits of protecting all households from excessive nitrates in the drinking water would be $350 million per year.

  • Pesticides Reduced and Costs Cut for Cotton Growers.  The National Research Initiative of the Cooperative State Research and Education Service supported research on cotton genetics and the biology of its pests. This has led to the development of genetically engineered plants containing the Bt gene from a soil bacterium. These transformed plants produce compounds toxic to insects but harmless to humans when consumed. More pesticides are used on cotton than any other crop so the use of cotton which expresses Bt will significantly cut costs and improve the environment by reducing pesticide use.

  • Research Aids Cotton Growers in Eliminating Yield Loss.  By using recommendations developed by research entomologists and by carefully monitoring boll weevil populations, cotton growers have eliminated yield losses that would cost them $10-13 million annually. Growers have reduced insecticide use by 250,000 pounds each year and insecticide costs by $2-4.5 million.

  • Nutrition

  • Zinc Intake Important to Maintaining Good Health.  National surveys have shown that in the U.S. half of the adults have inadequate intakes of zinc. Inadequate intakes of zinc can increase susceptibility to infection, poor wound healing, and skin lesions. It is not known how much zinc is needed to maintain good health. Investigators developed a model of zinc kinetics which shows the relationship between endogenous excretion, absorption, pool sizes, and dietary zinc intakes. They were able to show that the size and turnover rates of rapidly equilibrating zinc pools are specific indicators of zinc status and can be used to assess the prevalence of low zinc in a population.

  • Energy Requirements in Children Linked to Obesity.  Data from National health surveys have shown that pediatric obesity is increasing in the U.S. Childhood obesity increases the risk for adult obesity and associated diseases. Diet is considered to be an important variable, especially dietary fat intake. Investigators showed that maternal obesity influences dietary fat intake in children, and in boys there was a correlation between their fat intake and amount of body fat. Researchers have been able to provide and validate new tools for assessment of diet, energy expenditure, and body composition in growing children, which can be used in the development of new guidelines for dietary energy needs in children.

  • Vitamin A Critical to Embryonic Development.  Numerous studies have shown that adequate vitamin A is critical for normal embryonic and fetal development in humans. Maternal insufficiency of vitamin A during pregnancy results in several abnormalities and death of the fetus. Investigators used an avian model to look at the physiological function of vitamin A in early development. Studies show a role for vitamin A in heart, central nervous system and vascular system development. In addition, the researchers were able to identify a valuable marker (retinoic acid receptor beta), which is vitamin A status dependent, for vitamin A-dependent developmental events.

  • Food Safety

  • New Product Reduces Salmonella in Chickens.  Industry and USDA scientists developed a new product that can significantly reduce Salmonella in chickens. The product, a mixture of 29 live, harmless bacteria, is sprayed on newly hatched chicks who peck at their feathers and consume the solution. The culture colonizes in the gastrointestinal tract of the chicks and prevents growth of Salmonella bacteria. This new product will work to combat the estimated 2 million cases of Salmonella poisoning each year. The human healthcare bill for salmonellosis averages about $4 billion annually.
  • Social Costs of Foodborne Illness.  Economic Research Service research improved understanding of the annual costs to society of foodborne illness. Campylobacter, a common foodborne pathogen, causes over 2.5 million cases of campylobacteriosis each year in the United States. A small percentage of these cases go on to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). The total annual costs associated with Campylobacter-related illnesses are $1.5 to $8.0 billion a year (1995 dollars). These findings are reported in Bacterial Foodborne Disease: Medical Costs and Productivity Losses (AER-741) and Estimated Annual Costs of Campylo-bacter-associated Guillain-Barre Syndrome (AER-757).
  • Plant Biotechnology

  • Plant Research Produces Environmentally-Sound Insecticide.  The first transgenic soybean cultivar that produces its own environmentally-benign insecticide was developed based on fundamental plant research (supported by the USDA National Research Initiative). Its use will reduce the need for pesticide application, offering cost savings for farmers and consumers and benefits for the environment.
  • More Plant Tissues Regenerated.  Basic studies in plant genetics and plant growth and development have led to the ability of industry to regenerate transformed plant tissues. This has enabled industry to develop transgenic plants containing agronomically important genes. The plant biotechnology industry based in the U.S. has flourished with the help of basic plant research (supported by the USDA National Research Initiative).
  • Wheat Take-all Disease Diminished.  Wheat take-all disease can significantly diminish crop yields. Basic plant research (supported by USDA National Research Initiative) has identified the products of genes from bacteria which suppress the causative organism of wheat take-all disease. This has allowed commercial development of technology to control the disease, enabling wheat farmers to produce high yields in an environmentally friendly manner.
  • Animal Health and Welfare

  • Genome Maps Developed for Cattle, Sheep, and Swine.  Scientists in Nebraska have developed genetic linkage maps for cattle, pigs, and sheep. More than 1,000 markers in pigs, 1,200 in cattle, and 500 markers in sheep have been mapped on the chromosomes of each species. These high resolution maps have the marker density needed to identify locations on the chromosomes containing DNA affecting performance in livestock. These comprehensive genetic linkage maps are housed in a database available on the Internet.
  • Genetic Markers Identified for Disease Resistance in Poultry.  Marek's disease is a viral disease of chickens that has been increasingly difficult to control. It costs the poultry industry over $1 billion annually. Scientists in Michigan applied genetic markers from their genetic map to chickens that were resistant or susceptible to the disease. Using statistical analysis, markers in the chicken genome were identified that are associated with disease resistance. These markers can be used by the poultry breeding industry to predict and increase the percentage of chickens resistant to Marek's disease, thereby increasing the productivity of poultry.
  • Test Diagnoses Scrapie in Live Sheep.  USDA scientists discovered a simple, inexpensive method for diagnosing scrapie, an incurable disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. Currently, scrapie can only be confirmed by examining the brains of dead animals. Producers with confirmed cases of scrapie in their flock must destroy animals to help eliminate the disease. ARS researchers discovered that prions, a protein thought to cause the disease, collect in the third eyelid in live sheep. A new antibody will assist producers in identifying prions in a sample of eyelid tissue before an animal shows signs of the disease. The discovery is an important step in controlling scrapie.
  • International Trade Agreements

  • Analysis of China and Taiwan Joining the World Trade Organization.  Economic Research Service analyzed implications of China and Taiwan aligning their policies with the World Trade Organization requirements and released, The Impact of China and Taiwan Joining the WTO on U.S. and World Agriculture Trade (TB-1858). The principal findings of the study indicated that U.S. farmers would benefit from increased net farm exports of $2 billion and modest increases in farm income and prices. The report is widely referenced in the U.S. and around the world.
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