Wednesdays from Washington: Talking science with Dr. Mike Stebbins

Mike Stebbins headshot

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Alaine Janosy. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Alaine works as an independent sustainability consultant specializing in agricultural production systems and procurement. Through this work Alaine engages with companies to create, enable and expand strategies that drive adoption of regenerative farming practices.

In early March, our Arizona State University (ASU) Food Policy cohort met in person for the second time. This time, we convened in Washington, DC to meet with members of various organizations active in the food policy sector. Our week in Washington, DC included visits to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, just to name a few. We also had individuals engaged in public policy meet with us at ASU’s Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center to share their insight and expertise. One of these individuals was Michael Stebbins, PhD.

Dr. Stebbins currently owns and operates a consulting firm that works with public and private companies to provide guidance and expertise in science and health. His experience as a geneticist and public policy expert enables him to provide valuable guidance to his clients. Previously, during the presidency of Barack Obama, Dr. Stebbins served as the Assistant Director for Biotechnology in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In this role, he developed impactful Executive Orders and other directives in the areas of science and health. His work positively impacted food and agriculture in various ways including, but not limited to, restoring and protecting pollinator health and combating antibiotic resistance through the preferential purchasing of antibiotic free meats across the Federal government. In addition, prior to founding his own consulting firm, Dr. Stebbins was in charge of leading philanthropic science investments for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

During our meeting with Dr. Stebbins in early March, he emphasized the importance of becoming aware of and knowledgeable about all the “tools at your disposal” in public policy. Knowing what these tools are and how best to leverage them will lead to the most effective public policy outcomes. He also discussed an existing entity, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as an example of how a government agency can be formed to effectively address challenges that require significant investment and innovation. He suggested that a version of this concept would be an effective way to rectify market failures and address the existential threat of climate change. In fact, the 2018 farm bill included a provision to initiate such a program for food and agriculture.

The 2018 farm bill established the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AGARDA). The vision for this program is that it will take on the long-term, high-risk challenges that exist in food and agriculture and find solutions. Investments made by the program are meant to initiate and accelerate breakthrough technologies for food and agriculture that would not otherwise be identified. Given the long-term, high-risk character of the challenges, private industry is not well-suited tackle the research and development projects necessary for truly transformational change, thus the need for AGARDA. Unfortunately, at this time, AGARDA funding has not been appropriated.

Dr. Stebbins was an engaging speaker who offered the cohort a vision for how science, health, and public policy can come together to effect positive change. We truly appreciate him taking the time to meet with our cohort.

As we navigate these uncertain times it is more important than ever to have a robust network of food and agriculture policy leaders to make sensible and responsible decisions. Could you be one of those people? Learn more about answering this call by checking out the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Program at ASU