Archived News


September 30, 2002

A new $5 million institute dedicated to research and education for food safety and security issues in the state was announced today at the University of California, Davis.

The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, a partnership between the university, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Health Services, will be located at UC Davis.

The institute will draw together leading food-safety scientists from academia and state government to advance understanding in various fields related to food safety and security. The institute also will provide food-safety education programs to consumers and those in food-related industries.

The institute's mission is to develop the capability to identify food-borne hazards more rapidly and accurately. And it will work to develop effective methods to prevent natural and intentional food contamination that might lead to food- borne illnesses and outbreaks.

"California has the safest, highest quality food supply in the world," said William Lyons Jr., secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security will work to ensure continued confidence in the food supply. This is a critical mission, with millions of Californians waking up each day with the knowledge and the comfort that their food is safe."

"The institute will be the cornerstone to establishing California as the world's leader in food safety and security," said Bennie Osburn, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "Through research and practical education programs, the institute will take a comprehensive farm-to-table approach as we address food-related concerns that are vital to both the safety and economic health of the state."

The new institute's director is Jerry Gillespie, a professor and veterinary pathologist. "California faces numerous challenges, despite the strength of our food production and processing system," said Gillespie. "Our food supply is increasingly subject to contamination from both biological and chemical sources; and now we have the new threat of intentional contamination of food through bioterrorism."

Gillespie says the institute will deal with a number of food-related issues

  • newly emerging disease-causing agents and microbial organisms that are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics;
  • globalization and centralization of the food supply, which allows transmission of food-borne diseases from continent to continent in just a few days;
  • cultural and social changes in eating habits typical of California's large and diverse population;
  • and the increasing complexity of the food systems requiring continual updating of the state's food-safety structure.

The institute's research will span the spectrum of food types and sources, including plants and animals, as well as food from both domestic and foreign sources. One area of emphasis will be development of rapid diagnostic tests for disease-causing microbes such as Salmonella, deadly strains of E. coli, Cryptosporidium, anthrax and foreign food-borne diseases such as "mad cow disease" that causes fatal brain disease in people.

Institute researchers also will develop methods for tracing the source of food contamination; devise safe alternative methods for disposing animal waste; work with consumers, industry and state agencies to strengthen biosecurity strategies; develop better post-harvest pasteurization processes; identify weak food-safety links in the food-supply chain; study animal and human-health impacts of antibiotic use; and evaluate genetically modified products to determine their safety.

The institute's administrative and laboratory headquarters will be located at 255 Cousteau Place, about a mile east of the main UC Davis campus, just off the Second Street frontage road along Interstate 80.

Funding for the new institute comes from Gov. Gray Davis' "Buy California" initiative, a $76 million program financed by a combination of state and federal funds.

Media contacts:

  • Patricia Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,
  • Steve Lyle, California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Public Affairs, (916) 654-0462,
  • Lea Brooks, California Dept. of Health Services Public Affairs, (916) 657-3064,

This article was distributed September 26, 2002 by UC Davis Campus News Services.