In September 2014, UC Davis and Mars, Incorporated, agreed to a partnership that created the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, managed through the UC Davis World Food Center. In January this collaboration was officially launched.
Bruce German, a food science and technology professor as well as the facilitator of the development of the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, said that the goal of the partnership is to bring science into practice in order to create advances in sustainable agriculture, food safety and health.
“At the core of this institute is the realization that it is not enough for UC Davis to lead the world in agriculture and food science: we must lead the world in bringing that science to practice,” German said.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi’s statement on the UC Davis news website reiterated this goal of finding ways to ensure future agricultural sustainability.
“Establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health will mark a great step forward in addressing the sustainability challenges we face at the nexus between food, agriculture and health,” Katehi said in her statement. “We are proud to be at the forefront of this multidisciplinary and multifunctional effort to confront these issues head-on through innovation at scale.”
Over a 10-year period, Mars plans to contribute at least $40 million to the institute, while UC Davis will contribute at least $20 million.
Harold Schmitz, the chief science officer at Mars, said that the relationship between Mars and UC Davis actually began 40 years ago around the specific research area of companion animal nutrition. Twenty years ago, Mars began working with UC Davis on a program regarding human nutrition, thus creating the idea for the current collaboration.
German said that this partnership was formed due to the increasing need for agriculture sustainability.
“That sense of urgency for discovering solutions to what were becoming global challenges drove the idea of an Innovation Institute forward,” German said.
According to Schmitz, UC Davis and Mars are both well-equipped to create change in the sustainability fields because of the uniqueness of both institutions’ skills.
“UC Davis is unique in that it is the world’s leading food and agriculture school and it’s part of the University of California, which is uniquely the best public university system in the world,” Schmitz said. “Mars is unique for Davis because we’re privately held and the interests of the ownership are in health science and technology, [which] helps fuel the innovation cycle to change food and agriculture.”
According to Schmitz, the long-term perspective makes the relationship between UC Davis and Mars work so seamlessly. According to Schmitz, Mars wants to retain its status as a privately owned-company for at least one more generation, and he said that research regarding ideas, such as utilizing sustainable agriculture practices and finding sustainable protein sources, are essential to doing so.
Schmitz believes that the Innovation Institute for Food and Health will be a virtual institute, at least initially.
“If we built a building that makes the institute, I would be worried that we’d end up separating people rather than bringing them together,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz also hopes that this collaboration can be extended to other universities and companies in the future.
“The intention of this is not to be an exclusive Mars-Davis relationship,” Schmitz said. “The intention of this is for Mars and UC Davis to be the seed crystal to bring in other universities, other companies [and] other [non-governmental organizations]. So really, our intent is to create an innovation ecosystem open to all and fueled by all.”
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.