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Veneman Marks 50th Anniversary of ARS

By Kim Kaplan
December 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11--Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service by noting the many scientific advances and breakthroughs that have improved the daily lives of people here and abroad.

"At any given moment, scientists from the Agricultural Research Service are working on 1,000 different projects across a broad range of applications for our food and agriculture systems," Veneman said. "The scientific discoveries that have come from ARS have enabled us to increase our agricultural productivity, enhance food safety and improve our environment."

Agriculture Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Dr. Joseph J. Jen said, "ARS has made many noteworthy contributions throughout its history. We look forward to the opportunities that the next 50 years will bring."

For example, one of the most well known developments was the fermentation technique that led to the breakthrough of the mass production of penicillin in 1941, just in time to save thousands of lives in World War II. The deep fermentation method ARS developed for penicillin production and outgrowths from this technology have since been instrumental in development of many other important antibiotics.

In the area of food safety, ARS sequenced the genomes of several types of bacteria that cause foodborne illness--four types each of Campylobacter and Listeria, which help experts find new ways to control these pathogens. ARS also helped develop a handheld scanner that can help identify microbiological contamination of beef carcasses. And, ARS is playing a role in the department's Unified Food Safety Research agenda to enhance efforts in food safety solutions.

ARS has not just worked to make food safer, it has also been a leader in human nutrition research. ARS research found a link between cataract development and lower levels of vitamin B6, folate and taurine in the diets of the elderly as well as showed a relationship between vitamin C intake and blood pressure in the elderly. And ARS is the home of the national food consumption surveys to find out what people are actually eating. Data from the ARS Supplemental Children's Nutritional Survey in 1999 were the basis for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations ensuring that food does not contain harmful levels of pesticide residues.

ARS developed the Universal Soil Loss Equation and its subsequent revisions, helping farmers and other land users prevent millions of tons of soil from being lost to erosion while preserving the soil's ability to support agriculture. Research progress is a large part of why one U.S. farmer feeds 129 people today, compared to one farmer growing enough food for 19 people in 1950.

Veneman also highlighted another critical role of ARS--providing the scientific facts and findings needed by other USDA agencies as the basis for action and regulatory decisions. Examples include working with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to develop a rapid detection system used in the recent avian influenza outbreak in Virginia, and developing imaging technology to help USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration grade wheat more effectively. ARS diagnostic tests such as those to identify anaplasmosis in cattle or Karnal bunt in wheat are critical in helping maintain export markets for American products.

ARS is the chief in-house scientific research agency of USDA. ARS has more than 100 research locations nationwide, with approximately 2,100 scientists conducting studies in all facets of agriculture, under the direction of 22 national research programs.

For more information about scientific advancements and breakthroughs conducted by ARS, visit: