As the premier scientific organization of food science and technology professionals, IFT must be recognized by media, regulators, legislators, policymakers, health professionals, global organizations, the general public, and other outside stakeholder groups as the “go to” resource for cutting-edge information on the science of food. Our ability to communicate the science of food beyond our profession is critical to enhancing the reputation of our profession, increasing consumer understanding of numerous food-related issues, and ultimately fulfilling the mission of our organization.
To do this well, and to become a truly “influential advocate and trusted spokesorganization,” we will need time, money, resources, and the energy and dedication of our volunteer members and professional staff. We are already making strides toward achieving this goal—one step, one message, and one target audience at a time. We must work to enhance the scientific understanding of our food system—from production agriculture to food science to nutrition and health-related issues—among all professionals and interested constituencies. We must partner with other organizations to provide consumer-friendly, science-based information on food and nutrition.
The recent partnership of IFT, the IFT Foundation, and Discovery Education is one example of IFT’s commitment to educating the public about the profession of food science and technology. Another example is our Food Science Communicators and Food Science Ambassadors—an active group of more than 300 IFT members—who are responding to media and other inquiries on a variety of topics, from food safety to health and wellness to shelf life and packaging. Popular media are clearly the major outlet in getting our message to the public.
According to the IFT Membership Market Research Initiative conducted earlier this year, our members believe that IFT’s value can be enhanced by more public awareness of food science. Dialogue with our membership reveals that our members want IFT to:
• Have an effective infrastructure in place to proactively identify, manage, and communicate emerging and recurring food-related issues and trends.
• Be more assertive in telling our story to the public so that the field of food science becomes understood and respected by the public.
• Focus on both championing scientific research and communicating the results of such research on food safety, food and nutrition, health and wellness, nutraceuticals and functional foods, new food product development, food industry trends, and other topics.
• Educate the students and professors of science, engineering, health, and business majors within our universities about food science and what it brings to the table.
We recognize that there are misconceptions regarding the science of food, particularly the relationship of food, diet, health, and wellness. IFT can begin to address and clarify these misconceptions through enhanced communication, expert panels, and partnerships with other food-related organizations. IFT’s active involvement in the Partnership for Food Safety Education is an excellent example.
As part of our strategic plan, we described the need to effectively deliver science-based information by leveraging IFT’s expert network and scientific resources. It is essential that we create, maintain, and foster a professional network to effectively deliver our science-based messages, respond to emerging issues on a timely basis, and, where possible, help shape the debate. Building on our quality relationships with the media, regulators, legislators, and other outside stakeholder groups is the backbone of our communications outreach initiative.
In addition, IFT must improve its role in integrating science into public policy. To do so, we will actively collaborate with domestic and international professional organizations on specific needs or issues. We can increase IFT’s representation and contribution to government advisory committees, and we can develop science-based policy positions on state, national, and global issues.
It is not hard to imagine a future in which food science and technology is a big part of everyday public dialogue. We recognize that strategic communication to advance the science of food is a significant, yet critical, undertaking. We are identifying important messages to communicate, prioritizing our target audiences, categorizing existing IFT communications channels, and aligning our communications infrastructure to effectively deliver our messages to our target audiences.
I invite you to join us in this process. Volunteer to become a Food Science Ambassador. For details, visit www.IFT.org/ambassador. Let’s work together to advance the science of food and educate people about our profession.
by John D. Floros, IFT President,
2007–08 Professor and Head,
Food Science Dept.,
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.