Lincoln -- In the past I've expressed disappointment with the Nebraska Innovation Campus, both its direction and the time and money it has taken to get going.
Early on, its only claim to innovation was to link the University's food science department up with Omaha food company ConAgra, which soon left Nebraska for Chicago in search of ideas to offer healthier nourishment. No future in Nebraska, ConAgra concluded. Next for NIC: small-bore innovations in production agriculture, but nothing remotely close to justifying the NIC's existence. My opinion was that NIC should be thinking big in agriculture, in terms of health and wellness where the need is great and the opportunities commensurate.
Now that may be happening. With big thinking from Nebraska native Jeff Raikes, along with substantial funding from his foundation, NIC and other campuses are starting to work seriously on combining agriculture and health research into something that might be called Agriculture 2.0. NIC could be central to this effort.
"There are rich sources of commodities that have been exploited for production, agronomic, and yield traits that have not been exploited for health-promoting traits," a University official said in response to the Raikes challenge.
Well, yes. In case no one's noticed it, Nebraskans and Americans everywhere are suffering and dying from unhealthy food at alarming rates. Glad to see NIC now heading in the right direction. It deserves support and encouragement.
Also heartening is the renewed attention being given at the University to food labeling. One outcome of the new Agriculture 2.0 could be food labels that go beyond listing ingredients, to actually stating how certain foods may increase or reduce the risks of certain diseases. HFCS increases the risk of diabetes, for example. This is appropriate for the University of Nebraska, whose own Dr. Ruth Leverton led the way to create the first USDA food labeling effort. This history is something the Univerity should build upon as it looks for ways to define and create Agriculture 2.0.