UMass Amherst Food Experts Lead Group that Studies Food Marketing and Policy

AMHERST, Mass. - Two University of Massachusetts resource economists are leaders of a team of researchers studying issues ranging from the quality and safety of imported food to trends in food economics that reveal how often people eat out.

Julie Caswell and Richard Rogers, both professors in the department of resource economics, lead the work of the Regional Research Project NE-165, a team of more than 110 economists drawn from universities and government agencies from several states, as well as from Europe and countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. NE-165 focuses on areas within the food system such as strategic marketing, food safety economics, the structure of the food industry, agricultural cooperatives, and public policy related to these subject areas, including antitrust and regulatory policies.

"Our research influences public policy-making and private decision-making by companies," says Caswell. "It represents an important contribution to the performance of the food system." Participants in the regional project, says Cleve Willis, head of the department of resource economics, have conducted research of "substantial national and international policy importance on food industry issues," published books and scholarly papers, and delivered expert policy testimony in Washington, D.C., and abroad.

According to Caswell, the project has recently focused on the benefits and costs of adopting a new food safety assurance system, called HACCP, in the seafood, meat, and poultry industries. Caswell says research findings suggest that companies are spending more on HACCP adoption than was predicted by federal regulatory agencies, but the improvement in consumer-level product quality may also be greater than expected.

The work of NE-165 is facilitated by the Food Marketing Policy Center, established in 1989 and based at the University of Connecticut. The center conducts research on food and agricultural marketing and related policy questions to provide information that will contribute to the improved performance of the food production and marketing system. A major issue of concern is how production and distribution of food products is coordinated along the supply chain from the farm to the consumer''s table, including returns to farmers and processors and the final quality of foods offered for sale.

The center at UConn was recently awarded $310,000 in continued federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. UMass benefits from its cooperation with the center, receiving funding for research in the department of resource economics.