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The past nine months have been a whirlwind of excitement in Washington, D.C. The country has a new President, and IFT has an office in our nation’s capital. Like so many other scientific societies, including the American Chemical Society and the American Society for Microbiology, IFT is now positioned literally and figuratively in the center of the institutions and organizations that make and influence public policy. With food safety and nutrition and health issues appearing regularly in the news, it is very timely and appropriate that IFT set up shop to more fully participate in food and nutrition policy development. The challenge is not finding issues, but selecting them.
Biotechnology Report. Even before IFT officially opened its doors at 1025 Connecticut Ave., N.W., last October, we had begun to make our presence known. With our first expert report on priority and emerging issues in hand, we held a press conference at the National Press Club to announce the release of the “IFT Expert Panel on Biotechnology and Foods” report. Only a week later, IFT Past-President Bruce Stillings testified before the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions during a hearing on biotech foods and consumer confidence. Our second expert report, “The Science of Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues and Implications for Control in the 21st Century,” is scheduled for completion this summer.
Congressional Support for Science. To heighten awareness of IFT and the importance of science-based policy among policy makers, IFT established a Congressional Support for Science Award to be given regularly to two Members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican. The inaugural presentation was held on March 29 in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (Miss.), Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, and Richard Durbin (Ill.), an outspoken advocate of strengthening the country’s food safety infrastructure, personally accepted their awards from IFT President Mary Schmidl and made brief remarks.
Research Funding. Increasing the amount of both public and private money invested in food science and technology (S&T) research is an IFT priority. Last year, IFT formed a task force, chaired by David Reid of the University of California–Davis, to develop strategies to tap government, industry, and foundations for food S&T research dollars. In January, the IFT Executive Committee approved the task force’s first proposal, that IFT join the newly formed National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR). C-FAR is a broad-based stakeholder coalition of organizations and individuals in the food, agriculture, nutrition, and natural resource sectors, united by a common interest in increasing federal investment in U.S. food and agricultural research and extension. The C-FAR inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C., featured remarks by Nobel Peace Prize and World Food Prize recipient Norman Borlaug and U.S. Representative Cal Dooley (Calif.). On the same day, Mary Schmidl was elected to C-FAR’s Board of Directors and appointed to co-chair its Research Committee, ensuring that IFT will have the opportunity to take a leadership role.
Another research funding–focused coalition in which IFT has strengthened its participation since arriving in Washington, D.C., is that of the Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM). CoFARM, representing more than 75,000 scientists, is the only coalition of agricultural and life sciences societies in the Washington, D.C., area focused on funding food and agricultural research. Its goal is to achieve a substantial increase in federal funding of agricultural research by educating policy makers. CoFARM is also a member of C-FAR and chairs its Research Committee.
IFT has also become active in a broader coalition of science societies united by the goal of increasing federal funding of research in S&T in general. We participated for the first time in the Science–Engineering–Technology Congressional Visits Day coordinated by a network of more than 60 professional, scientific, and engineering societies and others, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies. The event took place May 1–2 in Washington, D.C., and included Administration and Congressional briefings and Congressional office visits. We look forward to having more IFT members participate next spring.
As the nation’s only food S&T scientific and professional society, IFT is uniquely qualified to interject sound science into the public discussion of food and nutrition issues through our publications and our participation in the policy-making process. It is essential to the development of sound public policies that credible scientific knowledge be represented in agency and advisory committee public meetings and closed-door sessions. We need more IFT members involved. Not to participate is to miss an opportunity. So, the next time you visit Washington, D.C., allow some extra time and stop by our new office to find out more about what we’re doing and how you can become more involved. We’re here to make your IFT membership more valuable.
To learn more about the above activities, visit the following Web sites: www.CoFARM.org; http://hill.beef.org/ncfar/; and www.agiweb.org/cvd/. Or visit our booth at the IFT Annual Meeting in New Orleans, June 23–27.
by STEPHANIE A. SMITH
Director, Dept. of Science and Government Relations