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IFT's Letter to the Biden Administration

March 22, 2021
Food's scientific society urges more funding for food and agricultural sciences, with emphasis on formulation, processing & packaging and retail.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) strongly believes that our food and agriculture systems are a cornerstone to the four priorities (economic recovery, COVID-19 racial equity, and climate change) of your administration. Therefore, we are keenly interested in working with you and your administration to strengthen the food and agricultural systems.

IFT is a global organization of approximately 12,000 individual members in 95 countries who are committed to advancing the science of food. We believe that science is essential to ensuring that our global food system is sustainable, safe, nutritious, and accessible to all.

The agriculture and food (agrifood) sector is the third-largest contributor of direct U.S. GDP, after healthcare and housing, accounting for $5.08 trillion of combined GDP and 22.8 million jobs in 2018. Further, the food sector (processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail, food service and delivery of food & beverage products) within agrifood contributed $2.7 trillion of combined GDP and accounted for 20.7 million jobs in 2018.

Yet, for more than 20 years, federal funding, largely through USDA, for food and agricultural sciences economics, education and extension has been flat, while there has been a rapid increase in agrifood research by our competitors (e.g., China and Brazil). Along the spectrum of the food supply chain, agrifood research has increasingly focused upstream (i.e., agriculture) and downstream (i.e., consumption), with very little emphasis on the middle segment—formulation, processing & packaging, and retail.

According to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, the federal share of research funding for food science, including food processing, preservation and other food-related technologies, declined from 10% to 4% of the total funding for nutrition research between 1985–2009. If investments in these areas do not increase, we risk losing a significant portion of our GDP, our global competitiveness and the next generation of scientists and talent pipeline in this sector.

We believe that significant investments in agrifood with an urgent focus in food research (food safety and quality, processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail, foodservice, and delivery of food and beverage products) will help address critical national and global challenges surrounding food safety, nutrition, public health and food security.

We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many challenges, including food supply chain disruption, food insecurity, disparity and inequality. For the first time, many middle-class families are experiencing elements of food insecurity and enrolling in supplemental nutrition programs. Further, climate change is expected to threaten food and agriculture production, including food safety and nutritional quality, food security, food prices and distribution, particularly to the most vulnerable, intensifying the mounting challenges that the food system already faces.

Food safety is a primary consumer priority and expectation. With the global food system rapidly evolving while embracing new digital technologies and distribution channels, industry and government partnership is critical to ensuring that expectation is met every day. Our food systems must be able to provide safe, nutritious, affordable, accessible, palatable, and culturally/socially acceptable food supply to maintain health or where needed improve health outcomes.

We believe that food science and technology play a critical role in addressing these challenges. Additionally, transdisciplinary sciences and application of advanced technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence and blockchain) are needed to transform the food systems so that they are more resilient, agile and can meet the increasing food and nutrition demands of the growing population globally.

We urge the administration to consider the importance of inclusion of research funding for food and agriculture, with a focus on food, in the research agendas of agencies such as NSF, DoD and DHHS, to complement the top-notch research conducted and funded under USDA’s REE — ARS, ERS, NASS and NIFA.

Further, public-private partnerships are critical to address the monumental challenges and to advance and transform our food systems. We urge the administration to develop additional programs similar to the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to advance and strengthen public-private partnerships.

We are confident that the administration will engage all critical stakeholders, including farmers, scientific societies, academia, food and ingredient manufacturers, consumers and others to address these challenges. The health of the population is linked to economic health and security of the country. We trust that the Biden-Harris administration will pursue appointing scientists, and food scientists and technologists in particular, to appropriate positions where their expertise would help advance the administration’s priorities.

IFT and food scientists and technologists stand ready to assist the administration on many aspects of the food system to successfully address these challenges.

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