IFT’s Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations (OSCGR) has been very busy, as usual. Here is a quick rundown of some of the activities:
• Expert Reports. IFT’s first Expert Report, Biotechnology and Foods, continues to be sought after, two years after its release. The main Web page for the report averaged 1,000 visitors per month until May and now averages about 375 hits per month.
The impact of the second Expert Report, Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century, continues to be very positive. The report was widely covered by the news media, including 81 online news sources, 78 print sources (e.g., Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune), 26 broadcast sources (e.g., CNN-TV, ABC-Radio New York/San Francisco, NBC-TV Atlanta, and CBS-TV/Radio Chicago), and numerous trade publications. The report and accompanying documents were requested by many in the scientific and regulatory communities, as well as the general public. The report averages more than 1,200 hits per month on the Web site.
Development of IFT’s third Expert Report, Functional Foods, is well underway. An expert panel led by Fergus Clydesdale of the University of Massachusetts began work in September. The panel’s report will advance the scientific understanding of this food category relative to public policy issues, further their regulatory development, and delve into strategies for further product development and appropriate use of these products.
• Advisory Committee Nominations. During recent months, OSCGR coordinated nominations of IFT members to several federal and international advisory committees, including the National Meat and Poultry Inspection Advisory Committee, United Nations’ Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives, National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. IFT 2001–02 President Philip Nelson was appointed to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. The nominee selection process is still underway for other federal advisory committees.
• Coalition Efforts. With its continued leadership role in the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR), represented by David Reid of the University of California, OSCGR assisted the coalition in achieving in the 2002 Farm Bill a doubling of the federal funding for agricultural and food research over five years.
• Codex Committees. Elizabeth “Betty” Campbell of AAC Consulting Group, Rockville, Md., participated on IFT’s behalf in the May 13–18 meeting of the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues. Numerous proposed Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for pesticides were not advanced because of concerns about acute dietary risk exposure. The need for MRLs for replacements for methyl bromide, which is being phased out, was noted. Options for addressing trade vulnerability, which occurs when Codex standards are not available for new, safer pesticides, were also discussed.
Robert Conover of Kikkoman Foods, Walworth, Wis., and Stephanie Smith, IFT’s Director of Government Relations, participated in the Codex Committee on Food Labeling on May 6–10. Although the committee discussed the labeling provisions for foods obtained through “certain techniques of genetic modification/genetic engineering” for nearly two days, little progress was made. Proposed draft guidelines for use of health and nutrition claims, however, did progress; the committee anticipates presenting guidelines to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption next year.
• FDA Contract Projects. The fifth task order under IFT’s contract with FDA is well under way. In this project, IFT is evaluating the consequences of a range of food–biological agent scenarios that might threaten food security via terrorist action. The sixth task order has been initiated. In this project, conducted in conjunction with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, IFT will assess the public health risk of transmissible BSE and chronic wasting disease associated with FDA-regulated food and other products.
• FDA Grant. OSCGR’s 86-page FDA grant application, “Development and Implementation of a Risk-Ranking Framework to Evaluate Potential High Threat Microbiological Agents, Toxins, and Chemicals in Food,” was approved for funding. The two-year cooperative agreement became effective on September 30. Mary Helen Arthur, IFT’s Science Information Manager, led the preparation of the successful grant application. A panel of experts will develop and implement a quantitative risk-ranking framework to help FDA evaluate intervention/control points throughout the farm-to-table food system and prioritize resources.
by FRED R. SHANK
IFT Vice President, Science, Communications, and Government Relations