An Auburn University initiative established in 2011 to promote interdisciplinary research recently reached a landmark by becoming an institute. The Auburn University Food Systems Initiative (AUFSI) accomplished the goal because of committed multi-disciplinary faculty and a string of successful ventures, including bringing in some $11 million in extramural funding, said director Pat Curtis.

Curtis said AUFSI is dedicated to improving the food system, which includes the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption and disposal of food. The institute, jointly funded by the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and the Office of the Vice President for Research, allows experts from various disciplines and departments to collaborate on improving the safety and quality of the U.S. food supply.

Initiatives can then be formalized as institutes when they demonstrate success in several areas. In addition to acquiring millions of dollars in grants for food systems-related projects, the institute has organized several “working groups” of faculty from different colleges and departments and established the Virtual Food Systems Training Consortium (VFSTC) to create training programs for inspectors of Food and Drug Administration-regulated foods. AUFSI received a $6.5 million five-year grant in 2011 to get VFSTC off the ground, and many training courses are almost complete.
Benefits of obtaining “institute” status include greater visibility on campus, increased potential to acquire external funding and permanence as an organization.

“The Auburn University Food Systems Institute has demonstrated its strategic commitment to uniting the efforts of researchers from a variety of disciplines in order to meet the needs of U.S. and global food systems,” said Carl A. Pinkert, associate vice president for research at Auburn. “Its establishment as an institute is therefore well-deserved and will be a significant asset to a host of university research programs.”