AUBURN, Ala.—An Auburn University initiative established through the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station in 2011 to promote interdisciplinary research aimed at improving the nation’s food system has achieved “institute” status.

The Auburn University Food Systems Initiative accomplished the goal due to committed multidisciplinary faculty and a string of successful ventures, including bringing in some $11 million in extramural funding, said AUFSI director Pat Curtis.

“Our transition from initiative to institute is a huge step in helping us reach our ultimate goal of safely and efficiently feeding more than 300 million people in the U.S. and of reaching out globally,” Curtis, a professor of poultry science, said. “We are proud of the hard work and accomplishments of our core faculty members who contribute to Auburn University’s diverse research efforts.”

The initiative-turned-institute 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 at Auburn, allows experts from various disciplines and departments to collaborate on improving the safety and quality of the U.S. food supply.

At Auburn, an initiative typically begins when a small group of people interested in a specific topic come together. When those individuals have demonstrated success in several key areas, an initiative can then be formalized as an institute.

In addition to acquiring millions of dollars in grants for food systems–related projects since its inception in 2011, the AUFSI has organized several working groups of faculty from different colleges and departments and has created the Virtual Food Systems Training Consortium to develop standardized training programs for food safety inspectors at the national, state and local levels. Curtis said the initiative was awarded a five-year, $6.5 million National Institutes of Health grant in 2011 to get the consortium off the ground, and many training courses are almost complete.

The benefits of obtaining institute status include greater visibility on campus, increased potential to acquire external funding and permanence as an organization, Curtis said.

The official Centers and Institutes Policy passed by the Auburn University Board of Trustees designates an institute as a well-defined area of instruction, research or outreach and involves faculty from multiple disciplines, departments, colleges or schools. Research, instruction and outreach among these various departments must be enhanced as a result of the institute. The policy also requires academic deans to be directly involved in an institute’s administration, which AUFSI implemented in 2012 with the establishment of its Advisory Board.

As an institute, AUFSI will undergo external review at least every five years to assess its effectiveness. 

Carl A. Pinkert, associate vice president for research at Auburn, said the food systems initiative has earned the institute designation.

“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,” Pinkert said. “Its establishment will be a significant asset to a host of university research programs.”

Eleven of the institute’s 23 core faculty are in the College of Agriculture.