New foundation fosters public-private partnerships in food, agriculture research

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Innovation

New foundation fosters public-private partnerships in food, agriculture research
A new foundation has come together to help transfer technology from federal scientists into new food products and strategies that could help combat obesity and find sustainable ways to feed the world’s growing population.

Called the Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership (ATIP) Foundation, the group brings together nin economic development organizations from across the United States into a close working relationship with the United States Department of Agriculture.

“This really does represent a different approach to long term sustainability of agriculture research through public-private partnerships,”​ said Richard Brenner, PhD, the director of the ATIP Foundation.

Gaps in technology transfer process

Brenner is quite familiar with how technologies developed by federal scientists get disseminated to the private sector.  For a time during his 30-year career at UDSA he was the director of the office of technology transfer.

“Any company regardless of size that is interested in licensing a technology (whether from USDA or another agency) has to submit a business plan,”​ Brenner told FoodNavigator-USA.

“That plan shows that they have the fiscal resources, the technical resources, the marketing resources and the manufacturing resources in order to take that invention to market.  You have to show that you are able to do that or that you have access to that,”​ he said.

“Given that the ag sector is often characterized by thin margins and niche markets—and these are often small businesses—they would invariably come back to us and say, we need some help getting your invention to market. We need some cash; do you have grant programs?

“And the fact is that USDA doesn’t,” ​Brenner said.

The only help USDA could provide, he said, was on the technical assistance side.  So it was recognized that there were some significant gaps in translating research into products and services that could make a difference in public well being.

Nine members formed foundation

The ATIP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity with offices in Arlington, Texas and member offices in eight states.  It is governed by members comprised of  its founding economic development organizations: the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO); Innovate Mississippi; the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium; the Georgia Research Alliance; Pennsylvania's Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority; the California Association for Local Economic Development; the Kansas Bioscience Authority; the Center for Innovation at Arlington, Texas; and the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) in Toledo, Ohio.  Each member of the Foundation also has a separate partnership intermediary agreement with ARS.

The ATIP Foundation will receive USDA requests to develop public-private consortia around specific initiatives of high national priority.  The first of these focuses on land management practices to sustain soil health for producing food, feed, fiber and biofuels. 

“If you look at world projections for  the years 2040 to 2050, we are going to have to increase protein production by 40% and we only have so much land.  How will we be able to support 9 billion people?”​ Brenner said.

“So you have got to have sustainable soil research.  This research doesn’t generate patents, this is public good research,”​ he said.

National foods database

The second of the first two initiatives centers on the fight against obesity.  The initial goal in this push is to expand and improve the national nutrients and foods database.

“This is a huge, daunting task.  The national nutrient database has information on 176 nutrients, 7,900 foods and about 1,300 brands. Here’s the problem: there are 7,900 foods in the database, but there are more than 36,000 foods on the grocery shelves, and there are about 20,000 that come on and others drop off every year,”​ Brenner said.

“We need to be eating better foods, and the food industry would like to produce better foods and we need to be able to understand the synergy of various nutrients in foods. We need to be able to provide up-to-date nutrient composition of these products.  The goal here, at the very least, is get the information on the nutrient facts panel for all those foods into the database,”​ Brenner said.

The foundation will enable the nine members to speak as one and will provide fundraising muscle, too, Brenner said.

“It’s pretty clear that we will see an erosion of federal R&D dollars,”​ he said. “The ATIP Foundation allows the nine members to be able to speak as one voice in the national arena.”

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