Claude Lévi-Strauss, a French philosopher, once said, "The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers; he is one who asks the right questions." Being involved in a number of professional organizations, I often find myself asking what I believe are the "right questions." For example, "As an active member, do I believe in the mission and vision of the organization?"
In supporting our mission to advance the science of food, IFT reaffirmed its commitment to science several years ago by identifying four primary goals within our strategic plan that center on science. One of the top strategic priorities within the 2008–09 IFT Annual Operating Plan involves identifying high-priority current and emerging science issues and recommending how best to champion them. In addition to this strategic priority, there are other important IFT programs and activities that focus on our mission.
• Volunteer Workgroups. The Current and Emerging Science Issues Expert Advisory Panel was created last fall to assess and prioritize issues. Our Scientific Advisory Panel identifies strategies to attract more leading researchers and increase the scientific quality of the Annual Meeting’s Scientific Program. IFT is also raising its public affairs presence with the Public Policy and Regulatory Outreach Advisory Panel by developing a long-term plan to forecast trends and lead important dialog on emerging scientific issues. Here are a few of IFT’s premier food science–based initiatives.
• Science Reports. The Expert Report, "Making Decisions with Limited Scientific Information About the Risk of Chemicals in Foods," is scheduled to debut this summer. The Scientific Status Summary, "Quorum Sensing in Biofilms: Why Bacteria Behave the Way They Do," appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of the Journal of Food Science (JFS). Scientific Status Summaries on food viruses and water use in food processing are in development.
• Publications. Food Technology reports on scientific research from universities and USDA-ARS, provides synopsis articles on science reports, and highlights relevant research papers. In mid-January, the ePerspective, a food science and technology blog, launched. The Weekly online newsletter features highlights from food industry research studies. The peer-reviewed JFS, Journal of Food Science Education, and Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety experienced an increase in submissions in 2008, up 19%.
• Annual Meeting Scientific Program. IFT received 1,833 technical research abstracts for the 2009 program—an increase of more than 500 abstracts from last year.
• Washington, D.C., Presence. IFT maintains a reputable presence in our nation’s capitol through ongoing relationships with key organizations including FDA, USDA, and the Partnership for Food Safety Education. IFT has nominated members to many federal advisory committees including FDA’s Food Advisory Committee, USDA’s National Agricultural Research Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board, the Institute of Medicine’s Sodium Expert Committee, and the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods.
• Coalition Activities. IFT participates in coalition activities of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition; the Coalition for National Science Funding; and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions. The Coalitions submitted written testimony to appropriate House and Senate Committees and the new Administration on topics such as additional funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, science education, and 2009 appropriations.
• Affiliate Relationships. Through affiliate relationships with 32 food science and technology societies worldwide, IFT contributes to the harmonization of food safety and quality in global food trade, to science-based decision-making in the international public policy and regulatory arenas, and to enhancing food safety and sufficiency worldwide.
• FDA Activity. An expert panel is working to provide FDA with an analysis of the systems, technologies, and practices that improve traceability of food products and the costs associated with traceability.
• CODEX. IFT Codex Subject Experts represent IFT in the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses and have made significant contributions to deliberations on the definition of dietary fiber.
This overview is only a sampling of the comprehensive menu of IFT programs and activities driven by our commitment to science. For the last seven decades, IFT has been at the forefront of efforts to advance the science of food. It is up to us to continue to make scientific advancements in our profession for decades to come. Let’s continue to ask the right questions.
Sheri Schellhaass, IFT President, 2008–09
Vice President of Research and Development, General Mills, Minneapolis, Minn.