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Dec. 22, 2022

MSU food safety expert to lead international organization

Felicia Wu, a John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor and an international expert on food safety at Michigan State University has been appointed president-elect of the Society for Risk Analysis. Wu is part of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics in MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“For me, the Society for Risk Analysis was that home organization that helped launch my research interests and my career when I was a grad student. I've tried to give back as much as I can because SRA has helped me so much in professional development,” Wu said in 2020 when she was named a fellow of the organization. Up to 1% of SRA members per year are selected as fellows based on achievements in science and public policy and service to the organization.

The SRA is a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and scholarly international society that provides an open forum for all those who are interested in risk analysis. Members of the leadership council are elected by the membership and serve a three-year term. 

“SRA allows risk analysis professionals to come together and share our ideas across so many diverse areas of risk — human health, the environment, economics, communication and engineering — to name a few. We have the chance to talk about putting together projects or policies that we might get off the ground to advance risk analysis effort in so many different areas of research and government,” Wu said.

Wu will become the first person of color to lead the organization in its more than 40-year history. While several MSU faculty are members, Wu will be the first person from the university to serve as SRA president. Doug Bessette, assistant professor in the Department of Community Sustainability, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Jade Mitchell, associate professor in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, College of Engineering, were also elected to serve on the SRA leadership council.

“MSU has a really strong nexus of risk assessment research, which is something I think we can be proud of,” said Wu. “Actually, it’s something the state of Michigan can be proud of; Seth Guikema, a professor at the University of Michigan, is a former SRA president.”

Outside of being SRA president, Wu and her colleagues are working with researchers from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University to find ways to actively help with risk assessment in Michigan. Together, the three schools form the University Research Corridor.

Wu, who has been involved with SRA for 24 years, attended her first annual meeting as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, she has served as chair for two specialty groups within the organization: one focused on risk communication and the other on biological stressors, now known as the microbial risk analysis group.

“As president I will focus on the international strength of the SRA,” said Wu. “I want to engage national and global policymakers to make them aware of this organization and how we can help them shape policy to improve everything from food safety to infrastructure and beyond.”

Wu’s research examines the national and global burden of foodborne disease, how improved nutrition can counteract the harmful effects of toxins and how cost-effective strategies can improve food safety in the United States and worldwide. Among her current research projects are impacts of climate change on aflatoxin risk in U.S. corn in the near future, the role of biotechnology in food safety and security, the effect of aflatoxin M1 consumption in dairy products on child growth in Ethiopia, the risk of foodborne illness from raw flour consumption and exposures to heavy metals in diverse foods.

In addition to the SRA, Wu serves as an expert adviser to the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as well as an invited reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, or AR6, in areas of food security and land-use changes. Recently, she served on the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ committee on the future of animal sciences research for global food security.

Wu earned her bachelor’s and master’s in applied mathematics and medical sciences at Harvard University, and she earned her doctorate in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to joining MSU in 2013, Wu was an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh. 

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