Plans are well underway toward opening an Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations in the nation’s capitol by September 2000, as recommended by the IFT Task Force on Food Science in Washington and approved by the Executive Committee.
IFT’s government activities began with the Public Information Program, which was formed in 1973 to recognize IFT’s need to establish a positive link among the food science that forms the base of IFT, the media, and related societies. The Office of Scientific Public Affairs (OSPA) emerged from that program in 1985. OSPA operated with an oversight board and one staff person, so that policy activities were somewhat sporadic.
In 1993, communications activities were further enhanced, and OSPA became Science Communications. In 1994, the department expanded to two Ph.D.-level scientists, three communications specialists, and two administrative assistants. A new oversight, the Science Communications Committee, was formed and now includes the chairs of committees that overlap with Science Communications, including Codex, Research, Food Science Communications, and the Expert Panel, three Executive Committee members, and two IFT Presidents.
IFT’s Washington office, the next step in the evolution of an initiative that began after much Council debate in 1985, will manage IFT’s government relations, including professional alliances and coalitions, issue identification, government liaisons, coordination of our Washington consultants, Washington media, and IFT’s Science and Technology Projects, and the management of our science communications function. The science communications and media relations activity will remain in Chicago.
The goals of the Washington presence are to increase the visibility and recognition of IFT as the leading scientific and professional-based source of information for food science and technology-related government activities; to advocate the scientific perspective on food policy issues; to effectively capitalize on and expand opportunities for IFT to address government food-related issues; and to expand opportunities to involve IFT members in an effective grass-roots network to enhance IFT’s role in government programs and policies related to food science and technology.
The guiding principles determined by the task force describe the work that will be done in Washington: IFT’s government-related activities will be rooted in sound science; its recommendations will promote sound government programs and policies consistent with the public interest; and development of IFT’s views will consider the input from scientists and experts from academia, industry, and government. IFT will use a variety of strategies, including active involvement of its members to advance its views and recommendations, and the activities of IFT’s Washington group will comply with the legal regulations on lobbying for 501(c)(3) organizations.
There will be many benefits to IFT from a Washington office, not the least of which is a consistent presence of IFT in government activities and increased recognition and credibility of IFT as a scientific resource on food science and technology issues among policy makers. A major component of this initiative is the increased awareness of scientific principles and expertise as a function of IFT’s interaction with food policy. In addition, the value of IFT membership will increase, along with its prestige to members. IFT will become more sophisticated in its policy interactions.
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Is there a down side? Only, I think, if we permit there to be. We cannot permit excessive partisan activity or the elucidation of unscientific views to sully the carefully developed professionalism and expertise of IFT. An Advisory Board will be named for oversight and evaluation of the new initiative, for both scientific credibility and fiscal responsibility. The Board will also be responsible for identifying emerging issues to which IFT’s resources should be directed.
As it happens, the Washington initiative coincides with some internal changes. The reorganization occurs as Science Communications Director Joyce Nettleton prepares to leave the organization to take on new challenges. Joyce has been with IFT for seven years, and has done a great deal to polish the image of IFT and set it on a firm path toward the forming of science-based agendas for the organization. Her expertise and clear leadership have made a difference, and we wish her well in her new ventures.
The Washington office will be directed by a Vice President of Science, Communications, and Government Relations. The total number of staff will remain essentially the same. The key factor is that our government, science, and technology efforts will be driven from a Washington base.
Our mission for this office is to enhance the exchange of knowledge relative to science and technology of food with a focus on government activities. The office in Washington is essential to achieving our mission. We will keep you posted.
Shank to Head IFT’s Washington Office
Always an advocate of sound science as a basis for regulations and policy, Dr. Fred R. Shank has accepted the leadership role in IFT’s Washington, D.C., office that calls for the provision of sound science to regulatory agencies and policy leaders.
As Vice President of Science, Communications, and Government Relations, Shank will continue to champion sound science as he has done throughout an impressive career. Formerly Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), he steered the Administration through the most comprehensive revision of food labeling in history. He is an expert in using solid science to replace fear and suspicion.
He led the development and establishment of unique consortia of academia, industry, and food regulatory agency to address the complex questions raised by emerging technologies. Examples of accomplishments include providing for the use of recycled plastics, use of automated processing systems, and approval of aseptic processing of multiphasic foods, an accomplishment that had eluded completion for years. These are only some of his recent accomplishments—there are many more.
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While a staunch advocate for sound science, Shank relates equally well to technical and less technical personnel. His calm, matter-of-fact discourse at Town Meetings and at meetings of industry groups gives a clear picture of him as a scientist who is totally at home dealing with concerns that are far from scientific.
Scientific principles can be lost when negotiations pit the social concerns of specific groups of citizens against the economic realities of funding innovation. Developing understanding and trust among scientists, regulators, and consumers is not easy: the language is different, the knowledge base is divergent, and, most of all, consumers have some reasons for suspicion and a lack of trust. The sources of foods and their provenance have changed as consumers have demanded more fresh foods and ready-to-eat products. Shank is remarkably patient in dealing with nonscientific attitudes in a clear, comforting way.
As IFT prepares to physically enter the Washington, D.C., arena, it would be difficult to imagine a better leader. Shank brings with him his advocacy for truth and science, his patience, his good humor, and his ability to locate common ground among the most diverse of audiences. His experiences in leading U.S. delegations on standard setting and trade negotiations will serve him well as he addresses the lack of scientific content in many trade and commercial issues. He’s accustomed to making best use of assets, a particularly appropriate attribute.
A Professional Member of IFT since 1972, Shank was educated as a nutritionist. He completed his formal education at the University of Maryland, where he earned his Ph.D. degree, then served the U.S. Air Force in the School of Aerospace Medicine before entering government service in the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. He joined FDA in 1978 as Assistant to the Director of the Division of Nutrition and became Director of CFSAN in 1989. He was elected an IFT Fellow in 1991, and was honored with IFT’s Babcock Hart Award in 1994.
His vision for IFT is to advance the science and technology of food and contribute to the scientific integrity of government policies and programs. This will be accomplished by the use of sound, solid science, representing all stakeholders in IFT—solid science for use in formulating reasonable policy and regulations and solid science to help consumers understand the complex issues that surround food, nutrition, safety, and disease prevention. Some of that solid science comes from industry and will take its place in the total body of scientific knowledge.
The value of fast response is undeniable, and fast communication when appropriate has become the norm for IFT’s Science Communications group. This won’t change. Being on the scene in Washington, D.C., will contribute to a rapid, correct, solid response.
Fred Shank will be calling for your expertise, assistance, and support. Please answer the call.
by DANIEL E. WEBER
Executive Vice President