Protecting the Nation's Food Supply
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted an insufficient number of “trained and diverse” professionals aware of employment opportunities within their own agency and others specializing in food safety. To remedy this lack of skilled graduates, the USDA has partnered with Texas State University and a handful of other Hispanic-Serving Institutions in order to graduate students who are well trained and ready to enter employment in food safety and agriculture inspection.
The Food Safety and Agroterrorism Education (FATE) program began in 2011 as a $3.39 million grant from the USDA. Dr. Doug Morrish, associate professor of agriculture education at Texas State, is the program’s director. The grant’s original objective was to graduate 50 Hispanic students prepared to work in inspection areas in USDA agencies. A key part of the program is Texas State’s partnership with other Hispanic-Serving Institutions, namely Laredo Community College, Palo Alto College and Northwest Vista College, to increase the transfer and retention rates of Hispanic students from junior college to four-year universities. Hispanic community college students are encouraged to develop connections with Texas State University through university transfer centers, mentorship websites, summer camps, faculty networking and learning fieldtrips. The students targeted for FATE come from biology, engineering, horticulture, agriculture and life science programs. Students received tuition and fee assistance, attended training and workshops, and worked with faculty mentors on research. Fifty-seven students participated in USDA-related internships with agencies such as the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Forest Service (FS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS). All internships were funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) HSI program. Additionally, 18 students traveled to Costa Rica to work with Earth University and study sustainable agriculture. Students visited local producers of bananas, coffee, tilapia and other agriculture commodities.
The Food Safety and Agroterrorism Education (FATE) program began in 2011 as a $3.39 million grant from the USDA.
The grant’s objective was to graduate 50 Hispanic students prepared to work in inspection areas in USDA agencies. As of 2018, 68 students have graduated.
To highlight the necessity of having such skilled individuals in key positions in our food safety network, and put the dangers of agroterrorism in perspective, Morrish uses this example:
“What if I went to a country where foot and mouth disease in cattle is pretty prevalent? I took out my handkerchief and rubbed it on a cow’s nose and put it back in my pocket. When I got on the plane to fly to the United States they check me for weapons, guns or knives. But they don’t know I have foot and mouth disease on my handkerchief. That person could then drive to Lubbock, throw that handkerchief into one of the feedlot pens, and every one of those cows will get foot and mouth disease. When you really think about it, it is pretty scary. It would cripple our economy.”
Changing perceptions of agriculture has been one of the largest barriers to student recruitment. Morrish repeatedly stresses to prospective students that agriculture is more than just “cows, plows and sows.” Students in the program have gone on to work for federal agencies like the USDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, for corporations like H-E-B, and for family farms and ranches.
Master of Agricultural Education, Class of 2015
Originally a transfer student from Laredo Community College, David received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 2013 and his master’s in agricultural education. He is employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service as an urban refuge coordinator. He says he would never be where he is today if it weren’t for the “professional support, networking support and opportunities to participate in conferences and internships” offered through the FATE program.
Master of Biology, Class of 2017
Also a Laredo Community College transfer, Gabriela received her master’s degree in biology in December 2017. She is currently working as a Research Assistant for Dr. David Rodriguez at Texas State, and hopes to someday work in Agricultural Research Service for the USDA. She credits the FATE program with leading her to her passion; she discovered a love for lab work while conducting an out-of-state internship through the program.