Skip to main content

Duke Receives $5.9M To Launch Global Food Policy Center

Taking aim at a disconnect between policymakers and researchers

Duke University will use $5.9 million in grants to bolster efforts to improve global food policy and inform issues such as malnutrition and food safety.
Kelly Brownell, right, is internationally known for his research on global food policy issues, such as food safety.

Duke University will use $5.9 million in grants to bolster efforts to improve global food policy and inform issues such as malnutrition and food safety.

The university launched the World Food Policy Center (WFPC) at the Sanford School of Public Policy with $5 million from The Duke Endowment, $600,000 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust and $300,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC Foundation). The center’s research, educational programming, conferences and policymaker outreach will focus on collaborative problem solving, an approach that is critical -- and rare -- in the food policy arena.

“We are grateful to The Duke Endowment, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust for sharing our vision for cross-cutting improvements to food systems, which can produce profound benefits to human and environmental health,” said Kelly Brownell, dean of the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and WFPC’s director.

Brownell said numerous food policy research and advocacy groups exist, but there is very little coordination across four key areas:

  • Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity;
  • Obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes;
  • Agriculture and the environment, including biodiversity, GMOs, climate change and water;
  • Food safety and food defense, which addresses concerns such as contamination and foodborne bioterrorism.

“Our intention is to facilitate connections between researchers and change agents,” Brownell said. “It is a two-way street: the needs of policymakers can guide research, and scientific findings can help policymakers make informed decisions.”

Sanford brought together food policy leaders from around the world last year as part of a planning process funded by a $350,000 grant from The Duke Endowment and $150,000 from BCBSNC Foundation. Many of the participants, including experts from the World Health Organization, the Council on Foreign Relations, the White House and the World Bank, had not met each other or worked together prior to the meeting, underscoring the need for the WFPC.

As a result, Brownell said, the main goals of the WFPC will be to convene experts and bring together research findings across the four categories. Together, the group will develop best practices to correct fragmented and counterproductive approaches to food policy.

The WFPC is working on creating a global network of people interested in food policy and connecting them through a digital “world food policy idea bank” that would allow participants to post questions, share ideas and make new contacts.

Sarah Zoubek, the WFPC’s associate director, said the center is also studying sustainable seafood policies, and early childhood development and nutrition. Additionally, she said, the WFPC will launch a local food policy initiative in the community surrounding Duke to support ongoing efforts to make Durham into a model food systems city. The center will look at Durham policies related to healthy food access, hunger and food waste.

“The new center will serve as an intellectual and information-sharing bridge between sectors of the food policy spectrum that don’t typically collaborate,” said Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, chair of The Duke Endowment’s Committee on Educational Institutions. “It will bring new opportunities for learning and collaboration, with the potential for substantial improvement in how the world grows, consumes and safeguards its food supplies.”

The grants contributed to the success of Duke Forward, the seven-year, $3.25 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign that ended June 30. Every dollar donated to Duke’s 10 schools and units, Duke Health, or university programs and initiatives counted toward the campaign’s goal.