What an exciting world and time we live in! As a scientist, I am occasionally overwhelmed by the rapid advances in science and technology. Sequencing of a major portion of the human genome, announced a few weeks ago, is an example of the speed and accuracy of technology brought to bear on learning.
Understanding the code of life will come later, and is one example of the emerging issues that IFT needs to understand and to bring into focus for our members and the public. As we gain more learning and understanding, the sciences interact more closely, and one can no longer separate fields as strictly.
For IFT, management of our organization has been evolving as we identify emerging scientific issues and develop them into strategic parts of our programs. These changes have allowed us to focus on the future and not dwell on the past or micro-manage the organization. In the past, we have done an outstanding job in reviewing and summarizing various facets of research and development in the food area. However, with the advances being made in science at lightning speed, we must think ahead of these advances. We must identify emerging issues and form priorities and strategies, to be the leader in science when it come to questions related to food.
Our new Washington, D.C., Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations is part of the change that will help us attain that goal. Working with the Science, Communications, and Government Relations Committee, the staff will spend great effort exploring the many advances and making recommendations for action to the Executive Committee. Strong relationships with IFT’s expert groups, divisions, and other committees will bring power and wisdom to our goal of being a top scientific organization with the ability to bring sound science and focus to the complex issues being presented.
These emerging issues are very complex and need the integration of a diverse scientific input. Few professional organizations have a more diverse membership than IFT. Indeed, I know of no other group that can focus on food-related scientific or technical issues better than IFT. The issues are numerous and demanding; we must not wait longer to focus on them. In the past year, we put our power to the issue of genetic modification of food crops. We were not ahead of the issue in this case, but it was an issue that needed our voice. Biotechnology’s use in agriculture is an issue that will define civilization in the future, as plant development and the Green Revolution have done in the recent past.
In 1866, Gregor Mendel proposed that discrete heredity units in an organism passed on the recognized family traits. Now those units are being described in fine detail. There is much controversy and fear regarding the use of that knowledge. It should not be subjected to political reasoning, but should be used in a safe, scientific, and beneficial way to help ensure a flow of wholesome food to the people of the world. The IFT project on the use of biotechnology has addressed those issues.
IFT used panels of experts to review the scientific information available and report on the risks and benefits, the science, and the issue of consumers’ right to know. In a short time, the results of their activities will be made available to you and to regulatory groups, the media, and our international affiliates. Here is an advance that can mean so much to human progress that for IFT not to make a contribution to the understanding of the issues would have been a regrettable mistake.
There are so many other issues that need our attention—obesity in America, hunger in the world, the relationship of health to components in food, food safety, food distribution, and others. The Executive Committee has charged a task force to propose a program for IFT to review the issues involved in the developing trends in the use of food and/or natural ingredients that may be considered to contribute to health.
As the leading professional group involved in food research, IFT should develop a scientific position on the merits of specific ingredients and the criteria for the judgment of their value. The role of vitamins was once poorly understood, but good science has allowed the creation of foods that fit optimum eating habits to ensure proper nutrition for health.
IFT fulfills many roles, responding to many people. Certainly one role must be to provide scientific information about food. Although there are some pockets of underfed and malnourished people in the United States, for the most part we are a nation of possibly too-well-fed people. By the United Nation’s estimate, there are 600 million people on earth who do not have an adequate diet. IFT, working with other food groups around the world and with strong support of the International Union of Food Science and Technology, can bring the science needed to support many of these people and societies. Knowledge about food is our security and safety and is essential to the advancement of all people and societies. These issues are global and are IFT issues for the future.
by CHARLES H. MANLEY
IFT President, 1999–2000