President Michael F. Adams on food modification and safety at UGA
Q: Your grandfather was a lifelong farmer in Alabama and your father spent his entire career as an executive with Kraft Foods. How does that background shape your perspective on UGA’s role in food production, research and safety?
A: I literally grew up in the food and fiber industry. My grandfather owned a farm, some forestry acres and a sawmill in South Alabama. I remember that work, literally at the ground level, during summers as a child. Growing up, I watched my father’s career in the international food and agricultural industry as Kraft grew into one of the two or three biggest companies in that industry. I spent my summers in college in the food sector—I’ve done everything from warehouse work to driving delivery trucks to stacking crates to sales.
Q: Agriculture was one of the earliest fields of instruction at UGA, established as a college in 1859. How relevant is the college today?
A: It’s more relevant than ever. I’m afraid that we sometimes take agriculture in Georgia for granted. Food doesn’t grow on shelves behind cellophane. I wish more of Georgia’s population understood the challenges faced by the people growing food and fiber in this state. Having spent my youth in Albany, I have known these people all my life and know that they are some of UGA’s most dedicated and conscientious supporters.
Q: In your opinion, what is the university’s biggest contribution to the agricultural community in Georgia in the past 20 years?
A: It’s two-fold. First is the explosion in relevant research that we are doing on everything from peanuts and cotton to poultry and forestry. Agriculture is still this state’s largest industry in dollar terms, and the research produced at UGA serves to enhance virtually every aspect of production. When you add in blueberries and pecans and soybeans and watermelons, all directly connected to UGA research, you get a full understanding of the breadth of our research in this area. Second, we serve this state through the leadership of Dean Scott Angle and his advisory council, the most important convening body on agricultural issues in the state. Consumer groups, commodity producers, the legislature and the governor’s office talk to each other most effectively when the effort is led by the university.
Q: A lot of research being done on food in biological sciences is leading to better insights into disease prevention and cures, and pharmaceutical research. Do you see this as an area that will continue to grow at UGA?
A: Absolutely. The coming together of pharmaceutical and agricultural research will continue. We need to study both plant- and animal-borne diseases more effectively and use researchers in agriculture, pharmacy, public health, veterinary medicine and medicine to combat disease and improve health. I don’t have the figures in front of me but my guess is that research-funding growth in these areas is probably the greatest at UGA in the past five years.
Q: Just about any time there is an outbreak of food-borne disease in the U.S., researchers from the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin are called in to help investigate and called by media to comment. How does the university, as well as the state, benefit by having such a high profile center?
A: It’s really simple—our food is safer and we have the capacity to ferret out problems when they occur. Remember the E. coli outbreaks and the problems with peanut butter a few years ago? Whenever these sorts of problems occur throughout the Southeast, UGA researchers in Griffin are the first professionals called. When the problems reach a national level, Mike Doyle is the first person called by congress to testify. Our entire food supply is safer because of that work, and I am happy that, with the governor’s support, we are about to begin a $4.5 million expansion of that facility.