With most of the world sheltering in place and plans canceled through the summer, food producers are finding themselves with a wasted surplus of perishable items that were once bound for schools, conferences, restaurants, and sporting events. At the same time, food businesses are struggling to get the supplies they need to stay open. Every link in the global food supply chain is now scrambling to adapt to the changes in demand caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

To help solve these issues, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture — an agency comprising 34 member states throughout North, South, and Central America that supports international agricultural development, food safety, farming, and trade — has announced the formation of a new advisory council containing some of the best minds in their fields from around the world, including one proud Hokie.

Virginia Tech Department of Food Science and Technology alumna Elsa Murano has been selected as the sole U.S. representative on the newly formed Food Security of the Americas Advisory Council — created to address the mounting food supply issues that are resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “I have known of their work for many years in helping to advance cooperation within the Americas,” Murano said. “As a Cuban-born and very proud American, I am deeply honored and excited to be able to represent the U.S. perspective to help advance the work of IICA.”

The initial members of the Food Security of the Americas Advisory Council include representatives from eight countries, including Costa Rica, Barbados, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and the United States, each specializing in varying areas of agriculture and food policy.  

Murano and her fellow council members are now charged with monitoring coronavirus’ impact on food security throughout the region and making recommendations that will inform the decision-making processes of public and private institutions. The body will also carry out dynamic analysis exercises and assist the IICA in meeting the now more urgent needs of its member countries.

Elsa Murano at Texas A&M University
After earning her Ph.D. in food science and technology from Virginia Tech in 1990, Murano went on to become the first female president of Texas A&M University. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Magazine.

Despite only having been formed a week ago, Murano said the council has been eager to get started.

“The director general did not waste any time arranging for the council to meet virtually this week already,” she said. “So, we may be able to offer some approaches to mitigating the consequences of the pandemic in our region.”

After earning her Ph.D. in food science and technology from Virginia Tech in 1990, Murano went on to serve as the undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a member of the board of directors for Hormel Foods, and as Texas A&M University’s first female and first Hispanic-American president. She is currently the director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.

“I have no doubt that she is uniquely qualified for the task and will be a major asset to the council,” said Joseph Marcy, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology. “The current coronavirus situation is unprecedented in our lifetime, and I think her experience in both agricultural and food systems and also education will be invaluable when it comes to addressing the food supply-related challenges we now face.”

Murano credits her time at Virginia Tech with igniting her interest in research-based problem solving and for giving her a scientific worldview that she has applied to everything she has done throughout her more than 30 years in food safety, agriculture and academia. 

 “My degree in food science, with a specialty in food safety, grounded me in science, which has been the hallmark of the work I’ve been able to do as a researcher, policy maker, and university administrator,” she said. “There is no doubt in my mind that it was my experience at Virginia Tech that gave me my first taste for how science can be used to solve the world’s toughest problems. As a proud Hokie, I am honored to be able to apply this principle to the work of the council.”

— Written by Alex Hood 

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