WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the USDA is distributing $176 million in Recovery Act funding to upgrade laboratory buildings and support facilities at research locations across the country.

Not only will these projects further important research being conducted at USDA laboratories in 29 states, these funds will help revitalize local economies by creating jobs and supporting local businesses that supply needed construction products and services.

"President Obama is committed to ensuring that USDA stays on the cutting edge of research in food safety, nutrition, producing food and preserving the quality of our soil and water," Vilsack said. "This funding will ensure that our labs can carry out the critical research that enables the U.S. to have the safest, least expensive food supply in the world."

The Recovery Act funds will improve the safety and health aspects of the laboratories, enhance the energy efficiency, and reduce the cost of operation and maintenance. These benefits will improve the working environment, resulting in improved productivity, and generate maintenance savings that will be captured and returned to directly support the research program. All of the projects selected are at locations conducting research of the highest priority.

The Western Regional Research Center (WRRC) in Albany, Calif., which is receiving $28.4 million, focuses on creating crop plants, food products, and food processing methods that are healthier and safer for consumers and the environment. For example, WRRC scientists discovered that microbes thought to live only in animals can also exist on plants such as lettuce and spinach, and the researchers are now working on ways to prevent produce contamination. WRRC will use the Recovery Act funds to make electrical and plumbing systems repairs, fire detection and suppression system renovations, roofing systems replacement, and other repairs that will keep the lab's research moving forward.

The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Ill., which is receiving $40.1 million, focuses on inventing new uses for agricultural crops and developing new technology to improve environmental quality and food safety. For example, NCAUR has developed a series of new food products that expanded markets for U.S. cereal crops. One of them, Calorie-Trim, is an all-natural, fat replacer. Derived from whole oats and barley, C-Trim contains 20 to 50 percent beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that helps the body regulate blood sugar and lower bad cholesterol, diminishing the risk of heart disease.

NCAUR also developed a vegetable oil-based elevator hydraulic fluid for elevators that is now being used in the Statue of Liberty. This new biobased hydraulic fluid has high fire resistance and could replace the conventional mineral oil-based product, which has major flammability, is environmental toxic, and has disposal problems. NCAUR will use the funding announced today to address critical deferred maintenance of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to enable the lab to continue to develop new products.