David Richardson, assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, visited the University of Nebraska–Lincoln on Dec. 18 to discuss the security and safety of the U.S. food system.
Richardson, along with Deputy Assistant Secretary John Waters, toured the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, Animal Science Complex, Nebraska Center for Virology, Greenhouse Innovation Center, Food Processing Center and Spidercam Plant Imaging Facility. During the tour, he met with IANR faculty and administrators to discuss the role of the university and its researchers in the security of the food supply.
“This was an opportunity to highlight our capacity — through integrated IANR programs and infrastructure — to contribute to the security of the food, agriculture and veterinary systems in the United States,” said Archie Clutter, director of Nebraska’s Agricultural Research Division. “UNL is already engaged in meaningful work in this area, through surveillance, early detection and mitigation of plant and animal diseases, and to prevent breaches of food safety.”
Andy Benson, director of the Nebraska Food for Health Center, was among a dozen or so IANR researchers who discussed their research with Richardson. Benson explained the center’s mission to improve human health by linking agriculture and food production to wellness and disease prevention through microbiome research, as well as how the center’s work relates to national security. Center researchers are looking at the development of antimicrobial resistance and how and where it tends to develop, Benson said. They are engaged in whole genome sequencing of pathogens, which can help researchers understand how those pathogens cause disease. They’re also looking at the development of crops designed to promote health of the microbiome, which would add value to American agriculture.
During a discussion with Benson and other IANR faculty, Richardson said the expertise he encountered at the university would help in an upcoming preparedness exercise and other efforts to improve security of the nation’s food system.
“Today — this — this is where it is at,” Richardson said. “The caliber of expertise Nebraska has here is something I definitely want to tap into for our upcoming exercise. We have to be prepared in this space of ag, vet and food. We have to know what is a realistic way to prepare ourselves and that our responders are really ready. The people here can help us do that.”
Mike Boehm, Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR and NU vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said Richardson’s visit provided a chance for researchers to reflect on how their work contributes to national security — and to continue to think about it in the future.
“Whether we realize it or not, our teaching, research and extension efforts lead to more secure food, agricultural and veterinary systems in America,” Boehm said.
Richardson’s stop in Lincoln was part of a two-day visit to Nebraska, during which he also visited the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska at Omaha and NU’s National Strategic Research Institute.