In October 2000, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) celebrated the grand opening of an office in Washington, D.C., to increase the visibility and impact of IFT as the leading voice of food science and technology. At that time, there was a critical need for an advocate that off ered an independent scientific perspective on food-related policy issues. Expanding IFT’s presence was a natural evolution of our vision and mission statement to forge a new beginning that would positively impact policy development and regulatory aff airs by focusing the dialogue on science.
A critical part of that eff ort was the opportunity for IFT members to educate government officials and interact with a range of stakeholders on pressing food science issues. Above all, the presence in Washington, D.C., created a focused eff ort to highlight IFT member expertise and enhance IFT’s overall role in government programs and policies related to food science and technology. “Ten years ago, despite various IFT eff orts, there was very little understanding of food science and technology and the valuable role that they play in public policy development,” said Barbara Byrd Keenan, IFT Executive Vice President. Now, 10 years later, IFT has established itself as a readily accessible, respected resource within public policy circles by fulfilling the need for a scientific perspective on food-related issues.
As food issues became increasingly visible and concerning to the public and the need for support for food-related research and innovation in food science and technology became greater than ever, IFT deliberately expanded its presence with the U.S. government, trade associations, scientific community, news media, and advocacy groups. In conjunction, IFT also sharpened its focus on generating unbiased scientific commentary and publications, some quite comprehensive, which contributed to the dialogue on high priority issues and established a foundation for continued success.
Science Reports, Global Reach
IFT developed numerous science reports and accompanying outreach materials, including five IFT Foundation-funded Expert Reports and an Authoritative Report. Expert Reports and similar publications on the current state of scientific knowledge on sometimes complex issues bring clarity to IFT members, the media, consumers, opinion leaders touching the food profession, and other interested parties.
As IFT established roots in D.C in 2000, the first Expert Report—Biotechnology and Foods—was released during a press conference at the National Press Club and served as the basis of testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. This first-ofits-kind report immediately made an impact worldwide with citations in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal-Europe, the Hindu, and numerous trade publications including Food Chemical News; contributions to PBS-Radio Chicago and Public-TV Argentina; and Web site links by the U.S. Dept. of State, U.S. embassies, and several countries. The D.C. location for IFT proved vital to drawing upon established IFT scientific perspectives to contribute to dialogue among key stakeholders and allowing for outreach continuity in public policy, scientific, and other arenas. The first Expert Report, for example, met with sustained interest since its publication, averaging more than 1,000 Web site visitors monthly for nearly a year and half after release, serving as the basis for an American Dietetic Association position and American Medical Association policy, contributing to deliberations in meetings of a Codex Alimentarius Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology and Committee on Food Labeling, and reaching professionals in Japan and Latin America via Japanese and Spanish translations.
Recognition of the fundamental, continuing issue of food safety and the need for scientific input into discussions of food safety management and regulatory policies set the stage for IFT’s next important eff ort. Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century debuted in 2002 at IFT’s second International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo. The report was noted by consumer and trade press, led to a Congressional briefing, became part of the Congressional record during a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, and contributed to numerous presentations and deliberations among governments (U.S. and Canadian) and the National Academy of Sciences. The third Expert Report—Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges—was highlighted during a 2006 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public hearing on “Conventional Foods Marketed as Functional Foods.” The report also served as the basis for multiple projects with partner organizations, particularly the International Food Information Council (IFIC). For example, IFIC later helped launch an IFT Pre-Annual Meeting Short Course on functional foods and led a project to produce a joint publication titled “ Guidelines for Communicating the Emerging Science of Dietary Components for Health.”
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Seeking to clarify the state of the science on antimicrobial resistance and shape policy for risk management, in 2006 IFT produced Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System. This report was a resource for a Codex Alimentarius Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance; an international stakeholders meeting convened by FAO, WHO, and OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) in Rome; and the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. The report was also cited in a 2009 letter about the issue to Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy of The White House, signed by nearly two dozen food producer and related organizations (e.g., American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Animal Health Institute).
Making Decisions about the Risks of Chemicals in Foods with Limited Scientific Information was published in 2009 to provide food safety managers a user-friendly conceptual framework for making timely decisions when low levels of chemicals are detected in food. This Expert Report was highlighted during the 2009 IFT Annual Meeting, in a still available, on-demand Webcast, and in recent IFT comments to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regarding the EFSA Scientific Committee’s risk-benefit assessment guidance.
Commentary, Expert Nominations
IFT raises the visibility of the profession and provides scientific input into public policy and regulatory developments in a number of other ways as well. IFT nominates member experts to federal advisory committees, where they can draw upon food science and technology for practical solutions to issues. IFT also very actively responds to calls for comments and statements on food-related policy issues, delivering commentaries verbally and in writing as opportunities arise.
Since 2001, IFT has annually honored two members of the U.S. Congress with IFT’s Congressional Support for Science Award during a reception on Capitol Hill. IFT established this award to recognize outstanding contributions to science-based agriculture, food, and nutrition policies and to increase the role of science in food-related policy enhancing the safety, nutritional value, aff ordability, and variety of foods. This year, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rep. Allen Boyd, D.-Fla., received the 2010 IFT Congressional Support for Science Awards.
FDA and Other Grant and Contract Activities
Although tasks within the first competitively awarded five-year contract with FDA were already under way when IFT put its roots down in D.C., the full-time presence allowed for much greater connectivity with federal government agencies, and trade and other organizations. IFT is currently working on a third five-year FDA contract relating to food protection and human health, emphasizing food defense. Articles about various projects conducted under contract with FDA and via grants, contracts, or subcontracts with other groups have also been published and have served as resources at many stakeholder meetings and briefings. For example, in 2009, IFT published three reports from contract work with FDA on product tracing in food systems, about which IFT was invited to provide testimony to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and FDA at a public hearing; IFT also provided Congressional briefings. IFT and IFT Expert Panel members have also received Special Citation Awards from the Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) for contract work related to food defense. Other IFT contractors or grantors include the Academy for Educational Development, RTI (Research Triangle Institute) International, and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense.
IFT plays a leadership role as a catalyst for food nanoscience research, innovation, and communication through a Nanoscience Advisory Panel, formed in 2006. IFT encourages collaboration and information exchange between leading domestic and international government, research, and policy institutions. IFT has provided numerous educational activities about food nanoscience, including the annual International Food Nanoscience Conference. IFT is currently collaborating with the FDA, Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Life Sciences Institute-North America, and the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory of the National Cancer Institute to develop a comprehensive report on the safety of nanomaterials in food and a road map to address research gaps. IFT also strives to educate consumers and the general public on this topic, in collaboration with other stakeholders, including government, policy/consumer organizations, and the news media.
IFT will continue to build connections with key members of the international scientific and regulatory communities by hosting meetings with delegations and visitors from other countries. For example, IFT welcomed an opportunity through the U.S. Codex Office to meet with leaders of African Codex Delegations to discuss IFT’s role in Codex as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) providing a valuable scientific voice to Codex and its subsidiary bodies and serving as a science resource to Codex members and other NGOs.
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With these and other successes of the past 10 years, IFT continues to exceed its original goals in the areas of public policy and regulatory aff airs. To build on these achievements, an IFT Public Policy and Regulatory Outreach Implementation Task Force is developing a new tactical approach for implementing public policy outreach, as recommended by an earlier IFT Public Policy and Regulatory Outreach Advisory Panel. These implementation plans will enable IFT to continue to advocate scientific perspectives on food-related issues, increase opportunities for IFT members, and play a more active role in agriculture, food, and nutrition-related public policy in the coming years.
IFT’s recently redesigned Web site will continue to help serve members and accelerate member eff orts to move at the speed of the digital age. The new site features a dedicated area that provides the latest information and happenings, including the IFT Policy and Regulatory Roundup, which is available as an RSS feed. IFT members also will be able to participate in a community exclusively focused on public policy and regulatory matters, link up with other members, and find news resources that will allow them to better participate in a dialogue on food science and technology issues. The site complements eff orts made over the course of the past 10 years and continues to help position IFT as the influential advocate and trusted spokesorganization that will have a positive impact on a range of challenges leading into the next decade.
IFT IN D.C 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY TIMELINE
• Grand opening of IFT’s Washington, D.C., office
• Biotechnology and Foods Expert Report released
• IFT Member Tom Zinnen serves as Congressional Fellow
• IFT’s first Global Food Safety and Quality Conference held
• IFT’s first Congressional Support for Science Award event held
• IFT Member Monica Fanjoy serves as Congressional Fellow
• Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century Expert Report released
• FDA Cooperative Agreement on Development and Implementation of Risk Ranking Framework awarded
• IFT joins Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM)
• IFT Member Martin Sancho-Madriz serves as Congressional Fellow
• First IFT Research Summits held
• IFT receives FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director’s Special Citation Award for food defense work
• Second 5-year competitive contract with FDA awarded
• IFT joins Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF)
• IFT joins National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NCFAR)
• Managing Food Safety: Use of Performance Standards and Other Criteria in Food Inspection Systems Authoritative Report released
• Congressional briefing held on Obesity Research Summit and resulting report
• IFT joins Partnership for Food Safety Education
• IFT joins Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics Education (STEM Ed) Coalition
• National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) Industry Use of Best Practices Grant awarded
• IFT/NCFPD Food Protection and Defense Research Conference held
• Congressional briefings held on agroterrorism and IFT’s BSE-related contract work and resulting Scientific Status Summary
• Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges Expert Report released
• IFT/ASN/IFIC Food and Nutrition Science Advisory Panel created
• IFT Food Nanoscience Advisory Panel created
• Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System Expert Report released
• IFT’s First International Food Nanoscience Conference held
• USAID/AED Rice Fortification Subcontract awarded
• IFT’s NGO status renewed for Codex Alimentarius
• IFT joins Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS)
• IFT, as subcontractor, assists RTI International in securing a competitively awarded FDA contract
• IFT receives FDA CFSAN Director’s Special Citation Award for development of CARVER + Shock software tool
• Making Decisions About the Risks of Chemicals in Foods with Limited Scientific Information Expert Report released
• IFT joins Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Coalition
• NCFPD Risk Communication Grant awarded
• Congressional briefings held on IFT product tracing-related contract work and resulting reports
• Third 5-year contract with FDA awarded
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ADVANCING SCIENCE THROUGH PARTNERSHIPS
IFT’s presence in Washington has allowed the organization to create and join many valuable partnerships and serve more frequently as a scientific resource to U.S. federal agencies and other organizations. As a member of many coalitions (e.g., the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research), IFT is able to be a part of a considerably larger voice promoting increased funding of agriculture, food, and nutrition research, through a variety of activities such as visits to Capitol Hill and seminars for Hill staffers. IFT is currently actively engaged in the Partnership for Food Safety Education, working to help change consumers’ food handling behavior in order to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. IFT participated in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowships from 1996–2003, allowing several IFT members involvement in public policy opportunities while advocating for food science and providing a scientific perspective. IFT members who served as Congressional Fellows are Joe Regenstein, Stephanie Smith, Mickey Parish, Joan Rothenberg, Tom Zinnen, Monica Fanjoy, and Martin Sancho-Madriz.
IFT formed a Nutrition and Food Science Advisory Panel with the International Food Information Council and the American Society for Nutrition in 2006, with the mission to raise awareness of the interface of food science and nutrition and demonstrate the impact of food and nutrition sciences on improving public health. This partnership held a 2008 grant writing workshop for 10 teams of food and nutrition scientists to expand research at the interface of food and nutrition science. The partnership also published, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a perspectives paper, “Can a Small Changes Approach Reverse the Obesity Epidemic?” that demonstrates how small lifestyle changes can help combat obesity. This paper resulted in a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture “Small Changes Summit” to address childhood obesity. The Nutrition and Food Science Advisory Panel continues to advance communication among the nutrition and food science communities through a variety of educational activities.
William Fisher is Vice President, Science & Policy Initiatives, ([email protected]); Rosetta L. Newsome, Ph.D., is Director, Science and Communications, ([email protected]); and Sarah D. Ohlhorst is Staff Scientist, Institute of Food Technologists ([email protected].).