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ARS Research Improves Food Availability, SafetyBy Kim Kaplan
November 10, 2003
Food is safer, more affordable and more abundant than ever for Americans, thanks in part to the work of the Agricultural Research Service, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.
Since the agency was created in 1953, food costs have dropped from about 20 percent of the average U.S. income to less than 10 percent today. One reason is that ARS research has helped make agricultural production more efficient; a single U.S. farmer in 1950 was able to produce enough to feed 19 people, but today that number is 129.
Take beef production, for example. There has been a 50- to 70-pound-per-carcass increase in production efficiency during just the past 20 years, in large measure because of ARS research. Some advances are due to better breeding, others to more effective management techniques that ARS has developed.
ARS has also developed many new varieties of crops--from corn to watermelons--with traits such as higher yields, more disease and pest resistance, greater temperature tolerance, enhanced nutrient content, new flavors and longer shelf life.
More than half the rice grown in the United States today comes from ARS-developed varieties. The Roma tomato was released by ARS in 1955, and it is still the main variety used for tomato paste. Most of the sweet red grapefruit now sold are Flame grapefruit developed by ARS.
But ARS' contributions extend far beyond improved agricultural production. The agency's research has led to a wide array of food safety improvements, such as a new handheld device that is revolutionizing meat inspectors' ability to detect bacterial contamination.
ARS's mission also includes developing a better understanding of what constitutes optimum diet and nutrition for people. ARS research has made many important discoveries about how nutritional requirements vary by age, gender, race, body type, life-style and other factors.
For more information about how ARS research has enhanced our food supply, see the November issue of Agricultural Research magazine.