The modern-day consumer is more engaged than ever. But with an endless stream of internet content from educational articles to blogs and social media, the waters get muddied quickly. Controversial topics such as food and personal care product safety can be difficult to navigate, with information—and misinformation—at everyone’s fingertips.
MSU has created an independent entity to research the safety of everyday products, train the next generation of food and ingredient safety professionals, and educate the public. In partnership with more than 20 food, beverage and personal care product industry organizations, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Center for Research on Ingredient Safety (CRIS) launched in 2014.
“MSU has a long history of helping to answer toxicological questions,” said Michael Holsapple, the director of CRIS. “Because the university is home to a very accomplished group of food safety and toxicology researchers, MSU leadership thought we could find a niche in this area and add a significant voice to this important topic.”
Holsapple was named director in 2015 after a nationwide search. In addition to serving as director of CRIS, Holsapple is the Endowed Chair in Ingredient Safety. The endowment, funded by GMA and industrial organizations interested in the mission of CRIS, will become fully funded at $4 million in 2017, a year ahead of schedule. GMA and industry organizations have agreed to continue contributing toward research once the endowment is reached.
MSU also pledged $8 million in support of CRIS. These funds have covered salary and startup costs for Holsapple’s laboratory, and two tenure-stream faculty who will be aligned with CRIS research objectives.
A Three-Pronged Approach
There are unique challenges facing researchers who work with ingredient safety. How do you prove an ingredient is safe? Who sets research priorities? Where can consumers receive unbiased information? To answer questions like these, CRIS has devoted resources to three primary areas: research, communications and training.
MSU faculty from a variety of departments will conduct the research. Much of Holsapple’s first year has been spent garnering support for CRIS around campus and meeting researchers. In summer 2016, CRIS issued a request for proposals with the plan to fund two to three projects. Preliminary results from these initiatives are anticipated in summer 2017.
Research priorities are generated by both the researchers and CRIS’s Emerging Issues Committee. The group is made up of Holsapple, five representatives from the industry, two from academia outside of MSU, two from government research facilities, one from a nongovernmental organization and one from the communications team at Arizona State University (ASU) assisting CRIS.
To guide CRIS’s outreach, the center has enlisted the assistance of Andrew Maynard, an expert in communicating scientific matters to the public and the director of the Risk Innovation Lab at ASU. Maynard’s team is utilizing multiple communication channels, including the CRIS Bits blog, a YouTube channel called Risk Bites and The Conversation, an independent source for informed commentary and analysis where members of the academic and research communities can post articles for public consumption.
Professional training will be a part of the Environmental and Integrative Toxicological Sciences program at MSU, and CRIS will offer a graduate degree track for students to pursue food toxicology and ingredient safety. The new program launched in fall 2016 and capitalizes on several courses already available at MSU.
“One of the most important aspects of CRIS is training new scientists,” Holsapple said. “I think our leadership in food safety and toxicology will make this a popular program. There’s a lot going on with CRIS right now, and I think we’re all excited to continue the momentum.”
For more information on CRIS, visit cris.msu.edu. The website includes links to CRIS Connects, a monthly e-newsletter produced and distributed by the CRIS director’s office.