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Then and Now

Setting the Table - How MSU research secures our food future

One search on social media can deliver millions of photos of the food we love to eat. But for something that occupies so much of our attention, food is a complex subject often wrapped in misinformation and misunderstanding.

While there is no shortage of food photos filling our feeds, the world faces looming threats of food scarcity brought on by climate change and overpopulation. Chew on this: by 2050, the world population is expected to exceed 9 billion. To feed a population that size, food production will need to increase by 70 percent to 100 percent. How will we do it? What will the food landscape look like decades from now?


MSU was the first university in the nation to teach scientific agriculture.

A new effort underway at Michigan State University aims to sort out food confusion and provide science-backed answers to the public’s food questions.

Six of nine consumers cite that their life issues of most concern are related to the food system, according to research conducted in 2016 by the Center for Food Integrity. That same research also revealed that 80 percent want to know more about where their food is produced but lack any direct connection to agriculture. More and more consumers also are accessing information from many sources, particularly non-expert websites and/or social media outlets.

The first university in the nation to teach scientific agriculture, MSU is today home to researchers from critical disciplines working to ensure a secure food future for all. From developing techniques for producing more food in more sustainable ways to guiding food policy and regulation, MSU provides answers that are steeped in science yet applicable to daily life.

Food at MSU

Food is the centerpiece of the new MSU public awareness campaign led by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Launched this spring, “Food @ MSU. Our Table” is intended to provide knowledge that enables consumers to make better informed decisions about their food and their health, says Ronald Hendrick, dean of the college. The campaign is rooted in communication.

“As the value of science continues to be questioned in many political circles, we realize the need for MSU and other institutes of higher education to be more engaged with the public about how their research and work impacts important issues like food security, food safety and hunger,” Hendrick says.


“MSU knows food. It harkens back to why the university was founded and where we are headed in the future.”
-Ronald Hendrick

A key component of the initiative will be a series of community roundtable discussions centered on specific food topics. Scientists, farmers, consumers, policymakers and others will join host and moderator Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-author of “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.” The conversations will be filmed and shared online.

A website – food.msu.edu – and a Facebook presence will spotlight stories and a question-and-answer blog, “Food for Thought.” In addition, national polling will be conducted to help get a better understanding of people’s scientific understanding of food and where they’re getting information.

Nine ways MSU helps get food on the table

Table setting
  • MSU researchers received more than $100 million in food-related grants in 2015 alone. This work helps Spartan researchers advance sustainable agricultural practices and the livelihoods of farmers in Michigan and the world.
  • Millions of small farmers get the tools they need to increase yields and build better lives for themselves and their families with support from MSU. The Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Initiative has awarded MSU more than $47 million in grants.
  • MSU is one of the key food research institutions involved with Feed the Future, an initiative led by the U.S. government to address global hunger and food security. MSU is home to two Feed the Future Innovation Labs—on food security policy and grain legume research—bringing disease- and insect-resistant beans to places in need.
  • MSU is a leader in training agricultural scientists from developing countries. With $33 million in total funding, MSU has 170 scholars from 11 developing countries pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in both the United States and Africa as part of the USAID Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development program.
  • MSU is the home of the Center for Research on Ingredient Safety, the only national center devoted to the study of the safety of ingredients in food and consumer products.
  • Tackling issues like rapid urbanization, climate change, and pressure on natural resources is the goal of the MSU Global Center for Food Systems Innovation. Part of the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, the initiative also is largely focused on gender equity and women’s empowerment.
  • MSU Extension employs specialists in all 83 Michigan counties to address concerns and questions from local agricultural producers, and MSU operates more than a dozen outlying research facilities spanning the state. These services are paramount to educating the ag community about the latest research and discoveries.
  • Educating the next generation of agricultural producers is the mission of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The college offers 20 majors in 13 departments, most of which are related to food, energy and/or the environment, and enrollment is at a 40-year high.
  • The MSU Center for the Health Impacts of Agriculture is addressing issues in which agriculture and health intersect. MSU researchers take into account plant, animal and human health when helping to design and implement agricultural policies and practices.

Read more stories about MSU food research in Futures

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