USDA Officials Hopeful on HNRCA Funding

Head of the Agricultural Research Service lauds nutrition science work done at Tufts
Bess Dawson-Hughes, Sonny Ramaswamy, Pamela Starke-Reed and Chavonda Jacobs-Young at Tufts
HNRCA scientist Bess Dawson-Hughes, at right, describes a nutritional study to USDA administrators, from left, Sonny Ramaswamy, Pamela Starke-Reed and Chavonda Jacobs-Young, who toured the facility. Photo: Anna Miller
August 15, 2017

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A top U.S. Department of Agriculture official praised the long history of nutrition science at Tufts and said she remains hopeful that proposed federal budget cuts will not impede the work at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA).

“We have found our investment here at Tufts to be so beneficial to the American consumer over the years,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, administrator of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the USDA’s principal research agency. “The work that’s done here is critical.”

Jacobs-Young was one of three USDA officials who visited the HNRCA on Aug. 15 and spoke about the critical role of the HNRCA-USDA partnership in advancing the agency’s current nutrition research priorities. The event came in light of President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request, which proposed reducing ARS funding by 22 percent, or $161 million. If implemented, those cuts would eliminate 17 programs, including the human nutrition centers at Tufts University, the University of Arkansas and Baylor University.

While Tufts operates the HNRCA, it is managed through a cooperative agreement with the USDA, which provides $12 million of the center’s annual operating budget.

“We don’t want to lose you,” Jacobs-Young told a crowd of scientists, faculty and staff at the HNRCA auditorium. “We’re doing everything we can to fight, so we just hope you’ll be doing the same thing.”

She pointed to previous fiscal years when Congress ultimately rejected proposed cuts and provided funding to maintain ARS programs and facilities. “We remain hopeful that in the end we will not have to take those cuts,” she said, adding, “We would not be ARS without the partnership with Tufts.”

Jacobs-Young commended several of the HNRCA’s contributions to healthy aging science, including its studies on muscle-loss prevention, its contributions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and its creation of the My Plate for Older Adults. She said this research is important in educating people that nutrition has an enormous effect on quality of life throughout the aging process.

“A lot of people don’t believe in longevity; they live like they won’t live long,” she said. “But we can have an impact on that longevity.”

Pamela Starke-Reed, ARS deputy director, said that Tufts’ nutrition science is globally recognized in the field. “I travel a lot, and many of the places I go to refer to Tufts as one of the top research centers in the world,” she said.

Broadcasting the importance of nutrition and aging research is more important than ever, said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “It is incumbent on you and me to educate everybody as to why public investments are critically important for the public good, which arises from the amazing discoveries and inventions that are going on in institutions like Tufts,” he said.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.